Berlin Borough receives grant from FEMA to replace obsolete fire safety equipment

Berlin Borough applied for the grant with Berlin Township, who shares the same equipment. The departments used the funds to replace the self-containing breathing apparatuses.

Berlin Borough, along with Berlin Township, received an Assistance to Firefighters Grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency this summer totaling nearly $280,000 to replace self-containing breathing apparatuses.

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Councilman Jim Pearce, chairman of public safety and liaison to the fire department, first brought it to the attention of council.

The borough and township applied for this grant together because there was a great need. They were using obsolete safety equipment that was 14 years old and did not comply with the National Fire Protection Association standards.

“The equipment we had was outdated, frequently breaking and virtually unsafe to all our personnel,” Berlin Borough Fire Chief William Behnke said. “It’s life-saving equipment and crucial to our operation to have equipment that works.”

The self-containing breathing apparatuses are air packs the firefighters use to enter a dangerous environment such as smoke-filled structures, hazardous materials incidents or any dangerous condition where air packs are deployed and meant to protect them from smoke chemicals.

Behnke said the new equipment, which will be shared with the borough and township, will display the amount of air available, provide access to rapid intervention teams that rescue trapped firefighters, and allow firefighters from both departments to communicate with each other.

A unique feature with the equipment is it has GPS tracking systems.

“If they were in a hazardous situation, they can be tracked by a locator,” Pearce said. “If a group was by a ladder truck and another group had gone into a fire with masks on, they actually have tracking ability and know exactly where they are.”

Pearce also noted this could be even more helpful if the firefighters were fighting fires or any dangerous situation on large properties, such as the Berlin Farmers Market and large industrial parks in West Berlin.

Mayor Jim Bilella said the fire departments in the borough and township work together as a unit, with some emergency calls in the borough showing up in West Berlin first depending on the proximity, and vice versa.

“When a firefighter shows up on the site, he or she grabs a pack and a tank, and they don’t have to worry about what make or model it is,” Bilella said. “With two departments having the exact same equipment and most modern in terms of safety, it allows them to work closer together and more seamlessly.”

The fire department received the equipment in August and began extensive training. Behnke said all personnel have undergone training.

They trained with the new equipment at numerous locations, including their own station, at the Camden County Firefighting Training Facility and in a warehouse filled with smoke to simulate a big building fire.

Behnke said this new equipment is imperative for their job and for the safety of Berlin residents.

“It’s a vital piece of equipment to our everyday operation,” he said.

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