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Escalon Fire Department Awarded FEMA Grant

An Assistance to Firefighters Grant has been awarded to the Escalon Consolidated Fire Protection District through FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Escalon Fire Chief Rick Mello said the department was notified recently that a grant they applied for last December had been approved.

“We applied for a brush truck,” Mello said of seeking specific grant funding. “We had applied for a grant of $228,000 and we were awarded the standard FEMA amount for a rig of that type, the standard amount is $175,000.”

The fire district will also have to match five percent of the grant, but Mello said that is still a bargain.

“That means we will pay $8,750 for a new brush truck,” the chief explained.

The department will have a year from the date of the award – which was announced in August – to complete the purchase of the new truck.

“This will replace a 1993 unit we have,” Mello added.

The current brush unit carries 190 gallons of water and 10 gallons of foam and has been pressed into service.

“This vehicle was never really built for wildland fires,” Mello said, noting that the new brush truck will be built to specifications for that wildland duty.

“We can use it as a search and rescue, it will be able to access areas we couldn’t before,” said Mello. “The new one will carry between 300 and 400 gallons of water and will be utilized as a fire suppression unit, it will be a four-wheel drive and we’re looking along the lines of having a higher ground clearance, more designed for off road work.”

Under the FEMA guidelines, the department can’t lean toward a specific manufacturer for the truck. Mello noted, though, that once the grant was awarded the department was contacted by several firms looking to provide information on the rigs they have available to see if they could meet the needs of the department.

“It was an hour and 20 minute call with FEMA to go over the list of compliance items, there are quite a lot of ‘do’s and don’ts’,” Mello said of working with the federal agency.

One of the requirements, for instance, is that the rig the new brush truck will replace cannot be used for fire service again by Escalon, so they will look to donate it.

“This is actually the first successful FEMA grant we have applied for since the 2007 Assistance to Firefighters grant we got for breathing apparatus,” Mello added.

That grant, some 10 years ago, was for just over $125,000. Escalon has applied for a FEMA grant every year, the chief said, but this year was the first time in a decade they have been awarded one.

“(Congressman) Jeff Denham’s office sent of letter of support to FEMA, that certainly couldn’t hurt,” Mello said of getting the legislative assistance.

The grant is awarded piecemeal, with funds paid out to the department as they proceed through the process.

“When you get a grant like this, the manufacturers come to you,” Mello said. “We are researching the companies that manufacture this type of apparatus.”

The chief is hopeful that a decision on the rig will be made within the next couple of months, then they will be on track to meet the FEMA deadline. It’s also a case where every cent of the grant must be spent on the brush truck; the department can “leave nothing behind” in terms of spending all the grant money.

The existing brush truck is at Station 2, near Van Allen Elementary School along Highway 120. Mello said the time had come for its replacement, but the only way the department could afford it was through a grant.

“It’s almost negligent not to apply,” Mello added. “The Assistance to Firefighters grants grew out of 9-11. It was nice to get back on the winning side and for the next fiscal year, we will try for a grant for PPE, Personal Protective Equipment, for new turnout gear.”