Portsmouth firefighters get boost from federal grant

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PORTSMOUTH — Some of the hoses that firefighters are using are older than Deputy Chief Michael O'Brien.

"They're from the '60s," he said.

Fire hoses don't get better with age, either. The deputy chief said there's been a 50 percent increase in hose failures over the past five years. While battling an Island Park fire during a blizzard last February, an older supply line failed, hit a firefighter in the legs and threw him into the air, he said.

"Our budget's taken a beating in the last couple of years. That eventually catches up to you," said Deputy Chief O'Brien, adding that the department has basically stopped maintaining and purchasing equipment. "You can only roll the dice so many times."

The Fire Department got some relief last week, however, as it celebrated the awarding of a $74,685 federal grant that will be used to buy 1.5 miles of new hose as well as a new compressor used to fill air tanks used by firefighters.

"These are mission-essential things that make our job safer," he said.

Portsmouth competes for the grants against other departments from all over the country, he said. "We're applied for these grants in the past and we've failed," he said, adding that the department is grateful to lawmakers for their support. Without the grant, he said, the department would have to borrow the money and rely on local taxpayers.

Congressman David Cicilline and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse threw their support behind the department’s grant application, the deputy chief said.

"One of our most important responsibilities as congressional delegates is to fight to bring resources back to Rhode Island," said Rep. Cicilline, who took a tour of the fire station Friday. He said the new equipment "won't only improve their response to a fire, but enhance safety."

Also at the station Friday was Town Council member Keith Hamilton, Rep. Linda Finn (District 72-Portsmouth, Middletown) and Karen Bradbury from Sen. Whitehouse's office.

"Municipal budgets are being squeezed tighter and tighter, so every little bit helps," said Mr. Hamilton.

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