Firefighters in Wrightsville and Hellam Township can breathe a little easier now, thanks to a $401,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The money will be used to buy new air packs, properly called self-contained breathing apparatus, or SCBAs.

Wrightsville Fire Chief Chad Livelsberger learned Friday that FEMA awarded the regional grant, in part, to his all-volunteer department.

"We're not in the grant alone," he said, adding it's easier to secure regional grants than to try for grant money as a single entity.

Four departments worked together to secure the federal money - Wrightsville Steam Engine & Hose Co., Hellam Fire Co., Marietta Fire Co. and Maytown Fire Department, the chief said. Each organization will receive roughly $100,000, he said.

Largest grant ever: "This is the largest grant we've ever received from FEMA," Livelsberger said. "The sole purpose of it is to buy new SCBAs. It's our main piece of equipment to enter a building with a hazardous condition. If we didn't have them, we couldn't do our jobs."

Regulations from the National Fire Protection Association state SCBAs can only be used for 15 years, according to the chief, then must be replaced.

"We have two years left on ours before ... they'd be at their 15-year maximum," he said.

The 30- to 40-member Wrightsville company needs to replace 28 of the air packs, which cost between $5,000 and $7,000 a piece, Livelsberger said.


'Ahead of the game:' Wrightsville's portion of the grant money won't be enough to cover the entire expense.

"But we'll be way ahead of the game," he said.

Without the grant, the company would have had to take out a loan, he said.

Maytown's SCBAs also are only two years from aging out as well, according to the chief.

"Wrightsville and Maytown were in the same boat, and I believe Marietta wasn't too far behind," he said.

The four firefighting organizations will meet as a group with SCBA vendors, and perhaps purchase the equipment as one collective group, rather than four separate agencies. That would likely mean a better deal on price, Livelsberger said.

"We have demos coming up with different vendors," he said.

Other grants: It's the third FEMA grant Wrightsville's fire company has been awarded recently, and the chief said firefighters feel pretty lucky.

"It's been a good two weeks in Wrightsville," Livelsberger said, adding the grants will allow the company to better serve citizens.

One grant, for $46,800, will pay for the company to install an exhaust system to remove diesel fuel fumes from the station, so firefighters aren't breathing them in, he said. The fumes also cause their turnout gear to deteriorate more quickly, he said.

The other grant, for $116,000, is part of an incentive program to keep members interested in fire service and to help ensure there's enough manpower, Livelsberger said.

Hellam Fire Co. Chief Kent Rudisill could not immediately be reached for comment.

-- Staff writer Liz Evans Scolforo can also be reached at