Ga. firefighters getting longer-lasting air tanks

Commissioner OK'd spending federal grant money to buy equipment including 159 new breathing apparatuses with carbon-fiber air tanks

By Tim Omarzu
The Chattanooga Times Free Press

LaFAYETTE, Ga. — Walker County firefighters soon should have a weight taken off their shoulders.

That's because Commissioner Bebe Heiskell on Thursday approved spending $405,162 in federal grant money to buy equipment including 159 new breathing apparatuses equipped with carbon-fiber air tanks. The tanks weigh 11 pounds, hold 45 minutes' worth of air and should stay in service for 30 years, officials said.

"They're a lot lighter than the aluminum and steel tanks that were used over the last few decades," said Jeff Whidby, vice president of Georgia Fire & Rescue Supply, which won the $140,318 bid to supply the air cylinders.

Carbon-fiber tanks are the norm now, said Whidby, a retired firefighter who works alongside his firefighter brother and retired firefighter father at their Canton, Ga.-based business that sells equipment to Georgia's fire agencies.

"I don't know if I've had a request [for metal tanks] for at least five years," Whidby said.

The air tanks that Walker County is buying are made by Pomona, Calif.-based Structural Composites Industries, which Whidby described as the "Cadillac" of the three companies that supply breathing cylinders to U.S. firefighters.

"SCI is the only one that offers a 30-year cylinder," Whidby said. "Over the life of the cylinders, it's going to cost [Walker County] less money, because they won't have to replace them."

County Coordinator David Ashburn hopes the new breathing apparatuses — along with a federally funded $640,000 combination ladder truck and fire engine that's on order — help lower fire insurance premiums for county residents.

Insurance Services Office Inc. assigns a public protection classification to communities ranging from one to 10, with one being the best. Walker County has a classification of four, Ashburn said, but he hopes that improves when ISO re-evaluates the county in October.

"There's only one other rural fire department in the state of Georgia that has the class four rating," he said. "None have a class three."

Along with the $140,318 spent on air cylinders, Heiskell also awarded a $264,844 bid to buy air tank harnesses and regulators from Municipal Emergency Services Inc. in Charlotte, N.C.

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