Monroe County fire departments seek funds for expired breathing tools

MONROE COUNTY, Ind. -- Local fire departments in Monroe County are in desperate need of new equipment essential to fighting fires. Breathing apparatus systems for five different departments are set to expire next year.

The systems include backpacks, masks, and oxygen tanks and bottles. They're about 14 years old. When they expire in May 2019, fire fighters won't be able to use them at all.

"This is an essential part for fire service. If you don’t have this, you have no ability to fight a fire," said Lt. Craig Patnode with Perry-Clear Creek Fire Protection District.

In addition to Perry Clear Creek, other departments like Bean Blossom volunteer, Benton volunteer, Van Buren volunteer, and Ellettsville Fire Departments are also in need of new breathing apparatuses.

"This is the bullet proof vest or firearm to a police officer," said Perry-Clear Creek Fire Protection District Chief Dustin Dillard.

Each system costs between $4,000-$7,000. For each department, the total cost would be $660,000. The departments are hoping to submit bids together in order to get the supplies in bulk. Fire leaders asked Monroe County Council members to take the funds out of the Public Safety Income Tax. This week was the first meeting were members of the Monroe County Income Tax Council’s Public Safety Local Income Tax Committee were able to hear the requests.

Previously, the departments applied for a federal grant. Dillard said they were close, but got denied in the end. If council members don't approve of the funding, Dillard said many small departments would struggle to find ways to pay for the tool required for fighting fires.

"If we need to perform a rescue, we can't do that without breathable air," Dillard said.

For The Perry-Clear Creek Fire Protection District, Dillard said they would have to use money that was originally set to be spent on a new rescue truck.

"That just basically takes away from other capitol expenses that have been planned," said Dillard.

New breathing apparatus systems would also mean new technology that's safer for firefighters and means a quicker response to you if you're stuck inside a burning building. At 14-years-old, the current systems are out of date. The masks often fog-up and it can be difficult to see through thick smoke and flames.

New masks would have lights that can help guide the way through a burning structure. The systems would also require less battery operation, meaning a savings in costs to keep the tools powered.

The next open committee meeting is August 7th. Council leaders said they hope to move quickly on a decision.