FEMA to review controversial Pittsburgh firehouse ventilation award process


By Richard Lord
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

PITTSBURGH — The Federal Emergency Management Agency plans to review the city of Pittsburgh's purchase of a $977,550 firehouse ventilation system with a federal grant, in light of two vendors' complaints that they were prevented from competing for the work, FEMA officials said yesterday.

FEMA will ask the city for its procurement policies and its contract with the Toledo-area firm Clean Air Systems Inc. that is installing the system, and will compare that with the five pages of purchasing regulations in the federal law governing Assistance to Firefighters Grants. One of those grants is covering $716,760 of the cost.

FEMA will conduct "a full desk review," said Lisa Lewis, director of the agency's grants management division. "With the concerns [expressed by competing vendors] we'll take a closer look at it" than grants normally get.

City Public Safety Director Michael Huss and a firefighters union committee wanted the ventilation system made by Sweden-based Nederman Inc., to carry diesel fumes from 50-some fire truck and ambulance tailpipes through hoses and vents and out of firehouses. The regional distributor for that system is Clean Air Systems.

The city contracted with Clean Air Systems through a state program that allows municipalities to pick from a list of commodity vendors and prices, rather than going through lengthy competitive bidding processes. Federal rules encourage joint purchasing between state and local agencies, but bar numerous procedures that "unduly restrict competition," as the regulation puts it.

Executives at Hempfield-based EMS Specialty Equipment, Cincinnati-based MagneGrip Group and their distributor Aire-Deb Corp. of Buffalo have said they wanted to compete for the business, but the city did not let them submit proposals.

Such complaints are "not very common," said Brian Cowan, program director for FEMA's Assistance to Firefighters Grants. He noted that there was "nothing improper" about the city's grant application.

Ms. Lewis would not specify the possible outcomes of the review, other than to say they can range from no action to termination of a grant or an effort to recoup funds. The review could take 90 days and FEMA officials would not commit to making it public.

Copyright 2009 P.G. Publishing Co.

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