Grant money helps Shaler fire companies, ambulance services

| Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

Every little bit helps for emergency responders who are receiving a share of the money available through the Fire Company, Volunteer Ambulance Service Grant Program.

The state program awarded Shaler Emergency Medical Services and all six Shaler Township fire departments with grants this year to purchase additional equipment or pay debt on previous equipment purchases.

“Basically, it's really the difference between having the equipment and not,” said Tim Banyas, outreach coordinator for Shaler EMS.

Last year, Shaler EMS purchased two power stretchers needed to clear the increased height of the newer ambulances with the Fire Company, Volunteer Ambulance Service grant. Banyas said this year's award of $7,091 will be used to offset the cost of purchasing four mobile data terminals for each EMS vehicle at a cost of about $3,000 each.

“(The) mobile data terminals are tablet computers that will go in each unit here and contain dispatch information, and dispatch can update us en route as to status changes in the patient,” Banyas said. “Usually when we do a call, we have to call out on the radio. This will eliminate that.”

The purchase also will bring Shaler EMS into compliance with the Allegheny County emergency dispatch system.

The $30 million in grant money originates from slot machine revenue.

The money is designated for the purchase of equipment, apparatus, debt reduction related to equipment and apparatus and training and certification. This year the state received 2,600 applications.

Fire companies are eligible for up to $15,000. Ambulance services can receive up to $10,000

Departments submit applications beginning in the fall. Grants are awarded in January, and departments are required by September to file reports detailing how the money was spent.

No checks are sent. The money is deposited in the departments' bank accounts, Mann said.

“At the end of the day, it (the grant money) helps,” Mann said. “It doesn't solve all of the financial issues, but it goes a long way to help.”

Many of Shaler Township's fire departments plan to use the grant money, which they receive in varying amounts, to pay debt on previous large purchases.

Cherry City Volunteer Fire Company will apply the $8,336 grant it received toward paying off the emergency back-up generator it purchased to support a warming center and cooling center at the station during emergencies.

John Klocko Sr., president for Undercliff Volunteer Fire Company, said the $13,619 grant it received this year will be applied to debt reduction on the aerial truck the company purchased in 2006.

The aerial truck replaced an aging truck with hard-to-find replacement parts and cost the department about $700,000.

“To run the fire department is an exorbitant amount of money,” Klocko said.

“The fire department is a business, and we have bills and we incur costs in running our department. We rely on donations, which sadly is below 30 percent of residents who donate … that's why it's (the grant program) very important to us.”

Firefighters at Elfinwild Volunteer Fire Company will see the grant money it receives this year go toward purchasing new personal protective equipment.

“The gear has a specific life span and we had some that was coming due,” said Craig Pearson, president of the Elfinwild Volunteer Fire Company.

The $13,458 grant will replace the jackets, pants and boots for six or seven of the 30 active members of the fire company.

“Every little bit helps,” Pearson said of the grant. “For Elfinwild, it allows us to maintain a high level of service.”

Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or Staff writer Karen Zapf contributed to this report.

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