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Wauwatosa Fire Department wins grant for new air tanks

Money saves city about a quarter of a million dollars

Feb. 6, 2013

Pluck and a good grant writer earned the Wauwatosa Fire Department a $245,543 grant for new equipment from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for at least the second time in just over decade.

The money will be used to purchase 49 self-contained breathing apparatus - air tanks worn by firefighters when they enter smoke-filled buildings - at a cost of about $5,500 each, Assistant Fire Chief Scott Erke said.

The new tanks will replace tanks purchased in 2001 using a similar grant. The old tanks are now reaching the end of their life expectancy and don't meet updated requirements. The department will hold onto a few of the old ones for training purposes and sell or return the rest to the manufacturer.

In a statement to the Budget and Finance Committee, which approved the acceptance of the grant, Chief Robert Ugaste said the grant would substantially reduce the $500,000 set aside in its 2015 capital budget to replace the tanks, although some of that money may still be required, as the grant is not enough to purchase all of the needed equipment. Erke said the department needs as many tanks as there are seats in its vehicles.

The grant requires a matching grant of 10 percent of the original grant figure of $272,825 - so the department had to come up with $27,282. The department planned to spend at least that much this year on a voice-activated dispatch system in all three of its stations, but will put that off a year.

New dispatching system needed

The new dispatching system will allow the dispatcher to type the alert he or she wants to send; the tone will sound and an automated voice will relay the typed message to the stations, describing the nature of the call and/or the kind of response needed. By not having to speak to make the call, the dispatcher can stay on the line with the person needing assistance.

"It's all through the computer system," Erke said. "Basically, she types it into the computer, saying, 'Respond to this address and it's for difficulty breathing,' and the computer system generates a voice over our P.A., and that way she doesn't have to stop and talk over our P.A., she can continue to talk to the caller and gather more information."

Erke said the new system will increase response time and provide a higher level of interaction with callers.

"It's a well-needed system, but once again, we had this great opportunity with this grant, so we're going to finish the grant, then the following year we'll be able to upgrade the dispatching system."

Grant success

The fire department lately has proved itself adept at winning grants and saving money. It purchased a fire truck in October for $599,000, cutting $50,000 off the sticker price. In December it put to use a new door for fire break-in training - bought with a $7,500 grant from the GE Foundation.

"We're very creative in trying to find funds without taxing the citizens," Erke said.

He credits the chief, who he said has "done a great job of networking and partnering with other facilities, and we've really been aggressive in seeking grants and seeing what's out there to try and assist us in our funding."

And, Erke said, Lt. Bryan Tello of the department "has done an excellent job for us" in writing grant proposals.

"As I understand it, this is the second time in 10 years that we have received the grant," said Alderman Craig Wilson, who chairs the Budget and Finance Committee, at Tuesday's Common Council meeting. "It has the effect of cutting the city's cost essentially in half, to the tune of a quarter of a million dollars, so I think all of us should appreciate that kind of effort by our staff in finding new ways to afford what we need to keep things moving."

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