published Friday, March 16th, 2012

Walker County firefighters getting longer-lasting air tanks

  • photo
    David Ashburn is a member of the Walker County Development Authority.
    Photo by Ryan Harris

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.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.

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