In the wake of several fires blazing across New Mexico, U.S. Senator Pete Domenici last week commended the Portales fire department for successfully completing another round of Federal Emergency Management Agency grant funding that will finance the purchase of two pieces of training equipment.
Domenici, a member of the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee which sets funding levels for FEMA, announced that the Portales Fire Department was selected to receive $69,054 in funding to purchase a mobile training trailer, or “smoke house,” and a specialized robot.
“I am pleased another local fire department has taken the initiative to gain funding to educate local kids on how to stay safe in the case of fire,” Domenici said. “These funds will help Portales buy equipment for hands-on learning techniques that emphasize the importance of fire safety basics.”
Jesse Mowrer, an interim chief with the Portales Fire Department, said that money invested in fire prevention usually pays for itself.
“It’s been measured on multiple occasions nationwide,” Mowrer said. “Fire safety prevention (education) has been proven to prevent fires and loss of property, but more importantly it saves lives.”
The smoke house is about the size of an RV, and is designed to travel to schools to simulate various fire hazards and the appropriate response. Bleachers are set up within the trailer and participants are shown and can participate in how to detect fire by feeling walls and how to safely escape the scenario.
“It has several different education stations,” Mowrer said, “as well as (stations for) kitchen safety, smoke alarms, exit drills, means for getting out of the window of a second-story building.”
Mowrer said that the smoke house is similar to a unit that the department has borrowed from Clovis for various events, but it will have some slight differences.
Also, a specialized robot that will drill youth on fire prevention will also be purchased by the grant.
“It’s not huge. It’s meant for dealing with younger children,” Mowrer said. “It’s about a first-grader’s size as far as height goes.”
The robot is operated by remote control, and the operator speaks to audience members though a microphone. The robot uses a voice modification program to broadcast the operator’s message. The robot is similar to one used during the city’s 100th anniversary celebration last year.
Mowrer is hoping to have both items in time for the upcoming school year.
“That’s pretty much the plan, to make sure we have it up and going,” Mowrer said. “A lot of times, (the robot) will be used in conjunction with the fire safety house as well.”
Domenici also announced that the Dunken ($52,776) and Sierra ($45,000) Volunteer Fire Departments and the Taos Ski Valley Fire Department ($52,830) also received federal dollars to improve their operations.
The Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program (AFGP) awarded these one-year grants after Congress appropriated and President Bush signed into law $750 million in federal funds for firefighters throughout the nation.
Mowrer said that Fire Marshall Mike Running did most of the application process for the department to receive the grant money.