Sunday, April 14, 2024

Green Firefighters Receive $48k Grant

With two decades of service, the department’s grant writer Asst. Fire Chief Jeremy Willis knows what’s needed when asking for funds, Photo by M. Gardiner, 03/2024

Facing rising costs, a Sussex County fire department plans to use a large grant to replace critical equipment. The funds are important for the Green Township Fire Department, where 32 active volunteer members provide emergency services to over 3,600 residents.

“To run a fire department these days is not like it used to be,” said Assistant Chief Jeremy Willis. “If you think you can run a fire department for $125,000 or less, you’re crazy.”

Willis counts two decades of experience in the fire service and seven years serving Green Township. 

Specialized fire coats and turn out gear must be periodically replaced to ensure optimum protection. Photo by M. Gardiner, 03/2024

He cited the cost of equipment as a major challenge, with a full set of turnout gear selling for nearly $6,000, which needs to be replaced every decade.

Earlier this month, Governor Phil Murphy announced that $20 million in grants under the American Rescue Plan was awarded to 353 fire departments statewide for proper protective, cleaning and sanitizing equipment by the Department of Community Affairs.

Green Township Fire Department was awarded $48,000 and plans to use this grant to replace an entire truck of seven air packs, also known as self-contained breathing apparatuses (SCBAs). 

A required air pack for fighting fires must be replaced every 15 years. Photo by M. Gardiner, 03/2024

“Any time we go into a burning building, any time we go into imminent danger to life and health, we wear air packs,” Willis said.  

He says the National Fire Protection Association requires the units be replaced every 15 years.

“Our airpacks have hit the end of our compliance.”

Willis has also served as the department grant writer since 2020, applying for any grant that comes across his desk for which the department qualifies.

“This grant was one that we received last year, significantly less than what we received this year,” he said. “So, I wrote again this year, altering some things, changing some things and we ended up getting $48,000 out of it.”

But the need to replace aging fire service equipment remains as unrelenting as the passage of time – especially when it comes to fire trucks themselves.

“The NFPA states, after 20 years, they cannot be primary pumpers,” Willis said. “Because the pumps are going, the tanks are going, they get a lot of use.”

That often means an eye watering bill for local fire companies, which for Willis underscores the importance of grants like the one Green Township Fire Department received.

“You can only do so much with what we have,” Willis said. “We have a wonderful town. Our town gives a lot, but the town only gives us like 50% of what we make for the year.”

That leaves the onus on volunteer members to shore up funding gaps.

“Everything else we do, from our chicken barbeque, our golf outing, open house fire prevention day, fund drives, where people come out and donate money to us – that’s some of the stuff we do,” Willis said. “That’s why I have taken on the grant writing, because grant writing is so important. You can’t survive without it.”

In his fourth year as department grant writer, Willis said he’s raised just under $175,000 for the department.

“And that’s what we’re surviving on,” said Willis.

Seventeen other departments in Sussex County are also slated to receive grant money under the program, with Andover Township receiving the largest share – some $75,000. 

Nearby, 11 fire companies in Warren County also obtained grants under the program, including $70,000 earmarked for Knowlton Twp. Fire and Rescue Company No. 1. 

A complete list of recipients statewide is available online.

Morgan Gardiner
Morgan Gardiner, Contributing Writer

Morgan Gardiner is a journalist and broadcaster based in Northwest New Jersey. Born and raised in Warren County, Gardiner graduated from McGill University and was previously an on-air newscaster, reporter and producer for WRNJ-AM. When not chasing down a news story, Gardiner fills his time with books, family, friends and traveling.