County gets firefighter safety grant

System to reduce exposure to emissions to be installed

December 22, 2003|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Using a new $750,000 federal grant, Baltimore County plans next month to begin installing filtration systems to reduce firefighters' exposure to diesel fuel emissions.

Although County Executive James T. Smith Jr. had earmarked $2 million over the next two years for the project, the county will now have to cover $1.25 million to install the systems, which filter the exhaust fumes from diesel-powered firetrucks and engines.

Twenty-three of the 25 county-owned fire stations are scheduled to receive the equipment, said Elise Armacost, a county Fire Department spokeswoman. The filtration system in the Catonsville station will be upgraded. The new station in Reisterstown already has the equipment, she said.

The $750,000 grant - the largest award possible - comes from the Federal Emergency Management Agency as part of the Fire Operations and Firefighters Safety Program, which has distributed $750 million to fire departments this year, said Bailey Fine, district director for Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Democrat who helped lobby for the funding.

The Fire Department's engines, trucks and other vehicles run on diesel fuel. Diesel exhaust is considered a possible carcinogen.

Because firetrucks are routinely started in the station, much of their exhaust is trapped indoors. With the filtration system, a modified hose fits around the tailpipe, sucks in the fumes and vents them outdoors. It automatically disconnects from the tailpipe when the firetruck leaves the station.

"We have an obligation to give our employees the safest possible working environment, and this grant will help us eliminate this particular concern very quickly," Smith said in a prepared statement.

The county had spent money from its major maintenance fund to get the project started, said Sheryl B. Goldstein, Smith's criminal justice coordinator. The grant will help the county complete the project more quickly, she said.

Exhaust has been a health concern for firefighters for several decades, said Michael K. Day, president of the Baltimore County Professional Firefighters Association, who has been lobbying for the system.

"Our fire stations are in use 24 hours a day, every day, and the public uses them as well as our employees," said Fire Chief John J. Hohman. "With the help of this grant, we'll have the best available technology for creating the safest possible environment at each fire station."

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