SOMERVILLE, NJ - Borough volunteer firefighters will be safer and taxpayers less burdened with the approval of $185,000 in federal grant money to be used for the purchase of 30 new self-contained breathing apparatus.

News of the grant was announced yesterday by Rep. Leonard Lance (R-7th) during a visit to the Somerville Fire Museum where he met with town officials and officers of the fire department. Lance was instrumental in supporting the borough’s application for FEMA funding through that agency’s Assistance to Firefighters program.

The monies will be used to replace outdated self-contained breathing apparatus, or (SCBA). Known more commonly as air packs, these air cylinder, regulator and mask units provide breathable air during firefighting operations.

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“I’m here to announce $185,000 in federal funds to the Somerville Fire Department based on its demonstrated need for new equipment,” said Lance, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.“ I commend Somerville for applying for and receiving these funds to protect its volunteer firefighters and for serving the best interests of the town.”

According to Borough Administrator Kevin Sluka, the need to replace outdated existing air pack units evolved from a risk analysis of firefighting equipment. “The old age and poor condition of our SCBA is a significant weakness in that they don’t meet our needs given the frequency of fire and hazards in our response area," he said.

Calling replacement of the units a “high priority,” Sluka said the borough sought the federal funds to comply with regulatory standards and ensure firefighter safety.

Fire Department Chief Marc Pellegrino underscored the importance of the timely purchase of new SCBA units.

“We are grateful for Congressman Lance’s help in moving this process forward. This is a critical piece of equipment every firefighter is dependent on, and since our current supply SCBA is due to go out of service later this year, the timing of this grant could not have been better," he said.

Pellegrino added that using the funds to pay for 30 new units at a cost of $6,475 per unit will alleviate what could have been an added tax burden on borough residents.

During his hour stop in Somerville yesterday, Lance was escorted by company chiefs on a tour of its historic Fire Museum, a showcase of 160 years of Somerville firefighting history.

Housed in a restored Doughty Avenue firehouse built in 1888, the museum features a hand pumper, horse pulled steam engine, equipment, an operating pull box alarm system and various fire service photos and memorabilia. Lance said he was impressed with the museum calling it “probably one of the best of its kind in New Jersey.”

At the tour’s conclusion, Somerville Mayor Ellen Brain echoed the borough’s thanks for Lance’s visit and his help in the funding initiative. “We want to thank Leonard Lance for his support of the Somerville Fire Department and our town,” she said. “This grant is vital in keeping our first responders and our residents safe.”