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Potsdam fire chief urges fund for expensive equipment

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POTSDAM — Most of the Potsdam Fire Department’s gear will have to be replaced within the next five to six years, and the village needs to start saving money now, according to Chief Timothy L. Jerome.

Turnout gear, the protective clothing worn by firefighters, needs to be replaced every 10 years regardless of its condition, according to federal regulations.

The department bought 40 sets of turnout gear at once using a grant obtained several years ago. That gear will have to be replaced in the 2018-19 budget year, and it does not come cheap.

“You can’t go to Walmart to buy fire gear,” Mr. Jerome said.

A single set costs about $2,300, bringing the cost to replace the 40 sets to about $92,000.

Modern fire gear is much safer than the uniforms of old, but also much more costly.

“I remember when I got in 24 years ago, it was just a long coat and roll-up rubber boots,” Mr. Jerome said.

The Fire Department will receive $289,881 from the village in 2013-14 if the proposed budget passes as written, an increase of slightly more than $700 from last year. More than two-thirds of it covers the salaries of the department’s four paid firefighters. The department has about $58,000 in discretionary spending every year.

Replacing all of the gear at once would be impossible, Mr. Jerome said. He has been buying four new sets of turnout gear a year to try to offset the cost, but it will not be enough to outfit all 54 department members before the existing equipment becomes obsolete.

Mr. Jerome said he has tried to persuade the village Board of Trustees to create an equipment fund for the Fire Department with money added every year in anticipation of major expenses, but the board has been reluctant because of a string of tight budget years.

“It’s almost a must,” Mr. Jerome said. “They said we have to believe we’re going to get a grant.”

The department applies for various grants every year and has managed to bring in about $1 million since 2003. But the money has been coming in more slowly in recent years, Mr. Jerome said, and he does not want to gamble on the likelihood of a grant being approved to decide whether the department can continue to function.

The department cannot apply for a grant until the year it plans to spend the money, so if it does not get the cash for equipment replacements, it may be too late.

“Without any gear or air packs, you just can’t operate,” Mr. Jerome said.

The department also received some money from the town and some through fundraising, but it will not be enough to cover costs, according to Mr. Jerome.

A two-day chicken barbecue raises about $800 for the department, enough to cover a single air bottle.

Once approved, the village’s 2013-14 budget will take effect June 1.

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