Before April, the East Wake Fire Department was using makeshift oxygen pressure packs to refill firefighters’ oxygen packs while fighting a fire, or in case of emergencies.
April 21, Raleigh city council approved the donation of surplus equipment to four volunteer fire departments across the state, including East Wake Fire Department.
As Raleigh upgrades to the newest standards in oxygen packs, the department was able to contribute 38 air packs and 84 spare bottles or masks. The packs retail for $6,000 each new.
Cates figured that the used packs are about 10 years old and would be useful for another five years.
East Wake, one of the largest of the four to receive the donations, was the only department in Wake County.
“We specifically didn’t have (air packs) and made that request,” East Wake Fire Chief David Cates said.
Their department works off of a $1.6 million budget, but only $180,000 goes toward operating expenses like fuel, equipment and maintainence.
With income coming from the single fire tax pool in the county, Cates said the department runs “tit-for-tat” with expenses.
“To get a $12,000, $10,000 equipment donation is pretty big,” he said.
The packs sit on fire trucks in case of emergencies – if a firefighter found himself trapped in a burning house, for example, several other firefighters could come in after him with the cannister, which contains compressed air that will refill their masks rapidly.
“It brings in air for the purposes of protection and allows for us to have more time to perform that rescue or take care of equipment problems we might have,” Cates said.
Although the devices are mandatory by national firefighter standards, East Wake was utilizing a makeshift version that only could provide up to 30 minutes of relief. Even then, the estimated time is based on a person breathing under normal circumstances.
With the new bottles, one for Station 1 on Clifton Road and the other for Station 2 on Hester Street, firefighters will have access to double that relief time when needed, as well as extra masks and accessories.
Contributions from other departments are not frequent or normal, Cates said.
“It’s not often that you see wholesale change of a RIT (rapid intervention team) pack program,” he said. “They’re usually replaced when they age out of service. In this case, a new standard came out and they had the resources to upgrade early and they did.”