JVFD set to buy new air packs


JASPER — If it wasn’t for their backpack-sized, self-contained breathing apparatuses, members of the Jasper Volunteer Fire Department wouldn’t be able to fight the flames, charge into the smoky buildings or rescue the people trapped inside.

The devices — also called air packs — allow them to breathe in dangerous situations. And at a late-March Jasper Board of Public Works and Safety meeting, the local outfit took steps toward securing a new set.

The board opened bid proposals from Donley Safety of Indianapolis and Hoosier Fire Equipment of Greenfield and placed them under advisement as department leadership investigates and determines which one is the best fit. Both bids were just north of $200,000.

“They’re very important,” Fire Chief Kenny Hochgesang said of the equipment. “[Without them], they couldn’t enter a burning structure because of the toxic smoke. This will allow them to go in, breathing the bottled air, and not breathing any toxic smoke. It protects them for their safety.”

The new air packs will replace a supply of 15-year-old bottles that are set to expire in September. Both bids received accounted for 32 packs and face pieces, as well as a spare bottle for each set. That is enough to fully stock department fire engines.

Here’s how they work. Strapped on to the backs of firefighters, when the air packs are activated, they channel a stream of air through a regulator to a face mask. The slower the responders breathe, the longer the bottle lasts.

Though the exact time fluctuates based on intensity, currently, the bottles supply enough air for about 20 minutes of heavy breathing. Hochgesang said it’s common for members to exhaust all the air from their tanks while out on a call.

“Most every fire,” he said of that frequency.

The new packs are expected to last about 30 minutes in a building, Hochgesang explained.

He said that when JVFD members arrive at a burning building, a group of two or three firefighters is sent inside at a time, while others wait outside to take their place. The rescuers make that switch when their air packs begin to beep to let them know they’re running out of oxygen.

Two department trucks have compressors that allow the firefighters to refill the tanks on the fly. The air packs and masks that they connect to are tested weekly by department members and are also professionally tested annually.

A recommendation as to which company the department would like to move forward with will be made at the next board of public works and safety meeting, which is scheduled to take place at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, April 14, in the council chambers at City Hall, 610 Main St.

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