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MATTOON -- The Mattoon Fire Department recently received a $200,000 federal grant that will enable it to replace all 30 of the aging air tank sets for the department's firefighters.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded this grant through the Assistant to Firefighters program, and the grant was matched by $10,000 in city funding.

Firefighter Dillon Kircher, who helped write the grant application, said the grant funding has arrived just in time as one third of the department's air bottles are scheduled to retire at the beginning of 2019 and another third of the bottles are set to expire at the beginning of 2020.

"I don't know how we would get the equipment replaced if we didn't have the grants," Kircher said of the high price of new air tank sets.

Capt. Rex Barnes said each new set of grant funded equipment will include two bottles, a harness, and a face mask. He said one of the new features of the equipment will be a warning signal on the air mask that indicates when 33 percent of the air supply is left, instead of the current signal at 25 percent.

"That gives you more time to exit the building," Barnes said. In addition, Barnes said the new equipment includes a breathing assistance kit that will enable firefighters to better share an air bottle when needed during an emergency.

Barnes and Kircher thanked U.S. Rep. John Shimkus for providing key assistance with the application for the Assistance to Firefighters grant.

In other matters, the department recently purchased a new specialized washing machine and a clothes drying cabinet for firefighter turnout gear with the help of a $15,700 small equipment grant from the Illinois State Fire Marshal's Office. They installed the new cleaning equipment this week at the fire station annex building behind City Hall.

Kircher said the new equipment will enable firefighters to quickly clean their own turnout gear on site without having to send this protective clothing out to a cleaning service. The washing machine can clean two sets of turnout gear at a time.

"This will actually decrease our turnaround time. We can get it cleaned in a couple of hours and return it to service," Kircher said of turnout gear. He added that this will minimize the exposure of firefighters to carcinogens that their turnout gear absorbs at fire scenes.

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Contact Rob Stroud at (217) 238-6861. Follow him on Twitter: @RobStroud

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