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Harper sees firefighting grant’s benefits first-hand

January 13, 2012

United States Representative Gregg Harper got an opportunity to climb into the driver’s seat of the East Oktibbeha Volunteer Fire Department’s newest truck Thursday.

Oktibbeha County Fire Coordinator Kirk Rosenhan said the truck is classified as a tanker, carrying 3,000 gallons of water and pumping at a rate of 750 gallons per minute. Greg Ball, EOVFD chief, joined Harper in the cab, demonstrating the tanker’s lights, sirens and other features.

When Harper climbed out, his words were few and his smile was wide.

“Guys, that was amazing,” Harper said. “Unbelievable.”

An Assistance to Firefighters Grant from the Department of U.S. Fire Administration paid 95 percent of the cost of the tanker, and Harper came to EOVFD to see the grant’s benefits first-hand.

Austin Check, EOVFD grant administrator, said the tanker cost about $220,000 as equipped, with 95 percent of the money coming from the AFG and the remainder coming from private donations. Because the AFG is a federal program, it requires congressional approval every seven years, making support from congressmen like Harper crucial.

“I think ... him coming out here and seeing hands-on what the results of that project are is beneficial rather than trying to make a phone call and trying to plead (for support),” Check said. “This is his district. He understands how rural fire works and how important this is to us in the lower-income parts of the state.”

Harper said he was impressed with the technology at the department’s disposal beyond the new truck. Firefighters also showed him cameras which can identify hot spots behind walls and racks which clean several fire suits at a time automatically, among other technology. Harper said he supported AFGs because they help county fire departments obtain equipment which might otherwise be inaccessible.

“This is really a great thing to get to see, when you get to see the new tanker truck that they’ve received through this grant for homeland security,” Harper said. “It’s something that will really help the community, and it also gives me a chance to visit with the folks that provide that protection and who are those first responders that do what they do to protect us and really risk their lives to help save others. To come in and see their operations, see the high-tech equipment that they use, it’s impressive, and it’s a great group of guys here.”

Check said the application process for the AFG includes justifying the need for the expense, showing how it improves response, loss reduction and the department’s overall efficiency.

Rosenhan said the tanker will be a great asset for improving the county’s fire rating.

“It will greatly augment the firefighting capabilities of the group here (and) assist in water shuttles,” Rosenhan said.

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