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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, July 22, 2010

“Visceral tug” succeeds in getting $41k grant
to keepWestmere firefighters safe in tall buildings

By Anne Hayden

GUILDERLAND — The Westmere Fire Department will use a $41,000 grant to purchase a life safety rope system, an evacuation system which is now required in New York State.

The federal grant was awarded after a highly competitive application process, pitting Westmere against thousands of other applicants.

William Schwartz, first captain of the department, did a study of the buildings in Westmere’s coverage area, which includes part of the University at Albany, and found that several buildings, particularly in McKownville, might require the use of a safety rope system during an emergency.

The system is required by a state law adopted in 2007, following a fire in New York City in which six trapped firefighters were forced to jump from a fourth-floor window; two of the firefighters died. 

“These systems are designed so that, if something goes wrong and a downward escape is blocked, firefighters can evacuate the building using the ropes,” said Charles Cahill, the chief of the Westmere Fire Department. The ropes and harnesses would be placed so that firefighters could escape through the windows of multi-story buildings.

The grant was awarded to the fire department through the Assistance to Firefighters Grant, which was created in 2001, in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorists’ attack, to help firefighters purchase necessary equipment; the grant is one of several administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

FEMA, part of the United States Department of Homeland Security, is an organization meant to help citizens and emergency responders prepare for, and recover from, disasters and hazards.

The application process is highly competitive, according to Assistance to Firefighters Grant regional representative David Gronsbell. He said the program receives upwards of 20,000 applications during each grant cycle.

Each applicant must write a narrative consisting of four parts — a project description, financial status, a cost-benefit analysis, and an impact on daily operations statement.

“The narrative is the applicant’s chance to weave a verbal tapestry that creates a visceral tug. The applicant can create a compelling case,” Gronsbell said. Each application is graded by an impartial computer program, and, if it passes through that step, it is reviewed and scored by no less than three people from the emergency services committee, said Gronsbell. If the application makes it past the emergency services personnel review, it is sent to the program office to be reviewed by subject matter experts.

“It’s actually quite an intense process,” said Gronsbell. The subject matter experts ultimately decide which department will be awarded the grant.

Congressman Paul Tonko, representing of the 21st Congressional District, presented the fire department with the grant on July 7.

The organization releases the money to the congressman in which the fire department is located. The 21st Congressional District includes Albany, Montgomery, Schenectady, and Schoharie counties, and parts of Fulton, Rensselaer, and Saratoga counties.

The grant requires a 5-percent match from the department to which it is awarded; Westemere will have to provide roughly $2,000 toward the purchase of the system.

Cahill said there are a variety of different rope safety systems, and the department will bring in an outside consultant to determine which system is best suited to Westmere.

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