By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Atmore Fire Department personnel moved a step closer this week to assuring that firefighters are safer when fighting a fire of any magnitude by installing new self-contained breathing apparatuses (SCBA) on fire suppression units and command vehicles.
City council members approved in January a bid of $80,448 for 24 packs (48 bottles) of SCBAs to replace the 10-years-old and older ones firefighters are currently using.
“These are our lifeline, what keeps us safe,” said Head Capt. Daniel Love, the local department’s second-in-command.
Firemen usually deplete the oxygen in a breathing apparatus in little more than half an hour, often less, of battling a blaze.
“An SCBA has to be refilled after about 40 minutes, depending on who’s wearing it,” Love said. “If it’s a big fire, or one that has us working really hard, it can be used up pretty quick.”
Local firefighters have recently been relying on Poarch Creek Indians Fire Department to fill their depleted air tanks, since their ages-old compressor finally quit working earlier this year.
To eliminate that inconvenience, the city council approved in February a $47,500 emergency purchase of a heavy-duty air compressor to keep the bottles filled. The compressor should be arriving soon, the fire captain said.
“Poarch is still filling ours right now,” Love said. “We’re waiting on the compressor, and hopefully it will be here in about three weeks.”
“Our air compressor has been on the demise for about 10 years, and it quit on us the other day,” Mayor Jim Staff said during the meeting at which the purchase was approved. “Poarch (Fire Department), thank goodness, has stepped in in filling our air bottles, but we’ve got to purchase a new machine.”
The mayor pointed out that the new compressor would pay for itself in maintenance and repair costs.
“We’ve been spending $5,000 to $7,500 a year in repairs on the old machine, and we can’t repair it this time,” he said.
Love said the new compressor would come with a Cascade system, large tanks that store oxygen until it can be transferred to the SCBAs. That will enhance the department’s ability to fight large fires, like the 2017 inferno at Tiger-Sul, a local fertilizer manufacturer.
The new unit will allow the city’s 14 fulltime and one part-time firemen to utilize the old Cascade system as a mobile unit.
“We’ll have a mobile system and one at the station,” Love said. “If we have a major fire, like the one at the sulfur plant, we can hook the mobile Cascade system to a trailer and take it with us, so we can refill our bottles on site.”
The department also has a dive team for water rescue and recovery, and the mobile system will help with that. Four firemen — Love, Capt. Zack Stewart and firefighters Dee Guy and Jake Lambert — are certified rescue divers.
Love said the new SCBAs and the system to fill them more rapidly, once all the pieces in place, will be an important part of AFD’s firefighting arsenal.
“This is going to be a great piece of equipment for us,” he said.