Amherst firefighters win $200K in FEMA cash to buy new air tanks

By Jason Hawk -

A $201,381 grant will purchase new air packs for Amherst fire crews.

The backpack-sized tanks help firefighters breathe inside smoke-filled or intensely hot environments.

“Our air packs are dated in the late 80s,” said Amherst fire chief Wayne Northeim. “They’ve been upgraded two or three times over the years, but it’s to the point now where you can’t get parts for them anymore.”

Federal Emergency Management Agency funds will be enough to cover the cost of 33 new packs, which are lighter and more efficient.

Each provides enough air for roughly 25 minutes. The portable units also have strobe lights and alarms to notify nearby firefighters in the event a comrade falls or is knocked unconscious.

Northeim said the new equipment will bring the AFD into compliance with federal law.

The old tanks were in such bad shape that he would have been forced to buy new ones next year, grant money or no grant money.

The last time FEMA awarded cash to Amherst firefighters was 2009.

To boost the city’s chances, Northeim reached out to Florence Township fire chief Bill Rennie, who has found more recent success with FEMA applications. He recommended hiring Gatchell Grant Resources of Canton, a firm that helps write grants and cut through government red tape.

It worked.

Gatchell’s fee is capped at $3,000 and was due only if Amherst received the grant, Northeim said.

Now the chief must place the equipment order out for bid. He anticipates making a purchase by the end of the year.

Delivery will likely come in 2016.

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.

By Jason Hawk