Pennsylvania distributes wildfire funds on Smokey Bear anniversary
Seven volunteer fire departments in Westmoreland County are among recipients of state grants for wildfire equipment and training.
The funding is from the latest round of grants announced by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources for departments in rural areas that regularly fight wildland and brush fires.
“Too often in our spring wildfire season, volunteer fire companies are kept jumping from one wildfire to the next,” \State Forester Ellen Shultzabarger said. “They need all the help they can get.”
Grants totaling nearly $620,000 were awarded to 132 fire companies across the state.
The Westmoreland County grant recipients are as follows:
- Allegheny Township Volunteer Fire Co. No. 1, $1,530
- Good Will Hose Co. No. 1, Latrobe, $5,020
- Hyde Park Volunteer Fire Department, Hyde Park, $2,500
- Markle Volunteer Fire Department, $3,753
- Mt. Pleasant Township Volunteer Fire Department #3, Calumet, $8,000
- Salem Township Volunteer Fire Department No. 1, Slickville, $8,215
- Youngstown Volunteer Fire Department & Relief Association, $10,000
Youngstown fire Chief Barry Banker said the money will be used for additional protective clothing, forest rakes, a chainsaw and a high-powered leaf blower. The department also is attempting to secure funding for an ATV “skid unit” with a tank, pump and hose-and-reel assembly for easy access to brush fires.
“We have a general project of trying to improve our wildfire equipment. Much of it is dated and inadequate,” Banker said. “We did an assessment and came up with a number of things we needed to do that were far in excess of the grant.”
The leaf blower will serve a similar purpose as a rake – to cut a fire line to arrest the spread of the brush fire, he said.
“You can do that much faster and efficiently with a leaf blower, using it as a tool to create a fire break,” Banker said.
Youngstown made a commitment to match the $10,000 grant with another $10,000, although the entire improvement project has a budget of $70,000, he said.
“Any grant program like this is very much appreciated because they allow us to do things that we would not do otherwise because we just don’t have the money,” Banker said. “We put together a comprehensive program. We were willing to make the investment of some of our funds to make it come about.”
Banker noted that because wildland fires often are fought by multiple companies, the benefit of new equipment goes beyond the one department receiving the grant.
Slickville fire Chief Mike Perfetta said his department will use the grant, plus matching funds, to add a skid unit to a Ford F-250 brush truck that was donated by Dominion Energy.
The department also plans to purchase new turnout gear and backpack units that are used in the fighting of wildland fires, Perfetta said.
“It helps a lot. We’re very appreciative of the grant,” he said.
Pennsylvania wildfires are most common in the spring and fall – in the spring before everything gets green and in the fall after vegetation goes dormant, Banker said.
Between 2012-15, 676 incendiary fires burned more than 6,000 acres of wildlands in the state, making it the second-leading cause behind debris burning, which caused 1,394 fires on 2,728 acres, according to DCNR statistics.
Fire-extinguishing costs for those four years topped $2 million.
Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Stephen at 724-850-1280, [email protected] or via Twitter .