Athol, Phillipston among departments to receive state grant funding

Athol Fire Department.

Athol Fire Department. File Photo by Greg Vine

Athol Fire Chief Joseph Guarnera. 

Athol Fire Chief Joseph Guarnera.  File Photo by Greg Vine

By GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News

Published: 02-09-2024 5:00 PM

Fire departments in Athol, Petersham, Phillipston and Royalston are among the 321 statewide to share in a $5 million Firefighter Safety Equipment Grants.

Gov. Maura Healey recently awarded the grant monies, saying, “Every single day, firefighters across Massachusetts put themselves in harm’s way to protect their communities…The Firefighter Safety Equipment Grant program is just one way we can express our appreciation for that selfless dedication.”

Locally, Athol received the largest grant - $19,000.

Fire Chief Joseph Guarnera said, in applying for the grants, “I put in for ballistic helmets, ballistic vests, and ballistic plates that go in the vests, as well as a pack that a paramedic would use in a hostile environment – a shooting environment. It’s geared to get a fallen person out, somebody who’s been injured or has been shot, and it includes medications.”

Guarnera said states around the country are adopting what is known as NFPA 3000, a framework for developing programs that integrate planning, response and recovery to active shooter incidents.

“Unfortunately, you’ll see on TV and in news reports, reports of active school shootings – just for instance,” said Guarnera. “It has to do with anything where it’s a hostile environment. The firefighter/paramedics are going in with the police, or after the police, to extricate people from the scene. That means fire department personnel need the same ballistic protection because it’s a hostile environment – guns, maybe even knives. So, we needed to buy gear.”

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A release from the Healey administration the day the awards were announced indicated that ballistic vests were among the top five requested items from those departments that applied for grant monies. Ballistic helmets were the eighth most-requested.

Asked if, when he first became a firefighter, he ever imagined the need for firefighters to wear bulletproof gear, Guarnera said, “I’ve been in the fire service for over 25 years – before that I was a police detective – and never, ever did I think fire and emergency service people would need a ballistic vest. As a police officer, I wore a vest all the time. But as a firefighter, I never even fathomed that we would need such a thing. Times have changed, unfortunately, and we have to live up to the expectations of the public and the people we serve and that can put us into harm’s way.”

The chief said a total of eight ballistics sets would be purchased.

“So there will be enough to put on the ambulance, the engine, myself and the deputy,” he said. “You know, we go along with the police sometimes if they’re doing a warrant service where there might be a problem. They’re all wearing vests, we’re not. So now we will have them. God forbid anything should ever happen as far as an active shooter, but now we’re prepared.”

Royalston Fire Chief Eric Jack said he was going to use the grant to purchase several pieces of equipment.

“We were given $7,702,” said Jack. “So, we’re going to use that toward a fire gear drying cabinet, one set of structural gear and, if there are any funds left after that, we’ll use it toward some nozzles.”

He said the turnout gear was needed because the equipment currently used by one of the firefighters is due to expire next year.

“It was scheduled to be replaced, but now we can use the state funds to pay for it,” Jack said.

Petersham and Phillipston also received $7,649 and $10,500, respectively, from the Firefighter Safety Equipment Grant program.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com.