Demopolis Council approves air packs purchase for fire department

Published 1:51 pm Tuesday, October 10, 2023

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The Demopolis City Council approved purchasing air packs for the Demopolis Fire Department. Mayor Woody Collins said that the fire department is having many issues with their air packs which are “the lifeblood during a fire.” 

Fire Chief Jeb Bailey addressed the Council to explain the situation.

An air pack for a firefighter is a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and is a critical piece of equipment for the fire department. The SCBA provides protection from smoke, toxic gasses, and other harmful particles that result from a fire.

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Collins said that air packs typically last between 12 to 15 years. The last air packs the city purchased for the fire department are only around six-years-old and from a brand that had never been used before.

“I can’t blame the Fire Chief who was there at the time because we went with the lower bid. Instead of getting the twenty air packs he needed, he was able to get twenty-four or twenty-five with the money he received,” said Collins.

Collins said the fire department is spending “thousands and thousands” sending the air packs back for repair. Four of the air packs are currently being repaired, and five at the station will be going off for repair.

“It’s costing us several thousand dollars every time they do this. And they have been doing this now for a long time,” said Collins.

“Every pack we own right now has been returned to the manufacturer at least once for repairs. Most of them have gone back multiple times,” said Bailey.

Bailey said the last five packs he sent back have cost him $500 to ship back.

Prior to the meeting, Collins said they had received a quote for Scott Air-Pak which is the “Cadillac of air packs.” The quote is for 20 air packs that include a face mask, a high-pressure gas storage cylinder, a pressure regulator, and a respiratory interface. The cost for the packs is $219,570.

Collins said the city and fire department have discussed phasing in the packs few at a time. The major concern, however, is the parts for the current packs and the parts for the new packs are not compatible.

“The air packs we have now are failing in service, and quite honestly, it scares me to death,” said Collins. “That is the life of a fireman.”

Initially, Collins thought the city would have to bid on new air packs, but Fire Chief Jeb Bailey found that bids were not necessary. Bailey said the air packs are on a state bid and would be bought through the National Cooperative Purchasing Organization (NCPO) which was used to purchase the current fire trucks.

“You don’t have to bid these things out even though they’re over the bid limits, they’re already predetermined by the government or state. It doesn’t matter which manufacturer or vendor we went with because the same rules apply,” said Bailey.

 Bailey said he would prefer to use Scott Air-Pak because of the quality packs that should last for the next fifteen years. Bailey said he would like to get the air packs as soon as possible for two reasons. The primary reason being the incompatibility of components and the safety hazards for his firefighters.

“Right now, every one of our guys has a personal mask that he plugs into the pack that’s on the fire truck. If we don’t replace all of them at once, then he would have to have two masks, and depending on what truck he gets on would determine which mask he uses,” said Bailey.

If the pack he is using fails at a fire, then the fireman has to get another pack and will have to be careful of which one he grabs based on which mask he is using.

The other issue involves the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) which governs the standards on air packs. If the NFPA comes out with a new standard that changes how packs operate, half of the fire department’s packs may operate differently.

After the discussion, the Council approved a budget adjustment to include the air packs for the fire department. The money for the packs will come out of the city’s reserve funds.