County OKs $145K for volunteer fire dept.

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Shirley Volunteer Fire Department. Mitchell Kirk | Daily Reporter

HANCOCK COUNTY – A small fire department is getting a big funding boost to replace old, obsolete equipment that keeps firefighters breathing as they battle blazes.

The Hancock County Council earlier this month approved $145,790 from the county’s economic development income tax for the Shirley Volunteer Fire Department.

Shirley Fire Chief Andy Ebbert requested the funds to replace the department’s 16 self-contained breathing apparatuses, often called air packs, which include equipment like oxygen tanks and masks. Also included are two rapid intervention kits, which consist of a breathing apparatus firefighters can bring to a downed comrade.

Ebbert said the department’s current air packs are 16 years old and that their manufacturer no longer makes components for that model. Without the replacement the county recently made possible, he’d have to hunt for good used parts when mechanical problems arose.

He also noted all of the fire departments throughout the county have been moving to the same kind of self-contained breathing apparatuses.

“So this should make all the air packs in the county interchangeable,” Ebbert said, adding that the oxygen bottles that are part of the new system fill up quicker, which will speed up turnaround times.

The Shirley Volunteer Fire Department’s annual budget is about $60,000.

“So for us to be able to change them all out was going to be a long-term loan, or we’d have to do a few packs at a time,” Ebbert said.

He recalled when the department upgraded to its current air packs 16 years ago, it used federal grant funds. Before that, Shirley firefighters relied on hand-me-downs from Indianapolis in various states of disrepair.

Ebbert said he was overjoyed by the county council’s decision to help.

“Finding funding at that level is tough, so we were very excited they were willing to work with us and help fund that,” he said.

Mary Noe, a Hancock County Council member, said she was glad to support the appropriation.

“These smaller fire departments struggle with funding, and we’re there to offer support if we can,” Noe said.

The council has approved financial assistance to fire departments throughout the county on several occasions throughout the past year. That includes over $80,000 to replace equipment for the Hancock County Technical Rescue Team, over $128,000 for the Wilkinson Volunteer Fire Department to replace air packs and over $80,000 for the Buck Creek Township Fire Department to cover a pension shortfall.