WEST HARTFORD — U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Mayor Shari Cantor announced Friday that the West Hartford Fire Department had received a $350,000 federal grant.
The funding, which comes from the FEMA Assistance Firefighters Grant, will be used for fire officer training.
“This is a constant mission for me,” Blumenthal said. “This investment is an investment in people. I really wanted to come by and say thank you...for all the great work and leadership.”
Blumenthal and Cantor gathered with Town Manager Matt Hart and Fire Chief Greg Priest at West Hartford’s station number two on Friday to talk about what the grant means to the department.
“This will impact the safety of our fire personnel by improving their training,” Priest said. “The pace at which we are able to conduct the training is very important to us. We can train them quickly but effectively as well.”
The department said the money will make up for training lost during the COVID-19 pandemic. The funding will allow them to send 20 members of the department to the Connecticut Fire Academy in Windsor Locks where they will receive 130 hours of training culminating in different certifications.
“During COVID we weren’t able to do as much training as we normally would have,” said Assistant Chief Hugh O’Callaghan. “We are getting 20 new instructors from this grant. Those 20 new instructors can come back to the firehouse and pay it forward and continue to train our people for many, many years. They will be able to train their crews on everyday operations.”
Capt. Adam Pacheco, who was involved in writing the grant, said the department had a change when they took on the paramedic force a few years ago, and that some of those members might not have the same fire training as other members had.
“Because of COVID a number of the schools shut down and the ability to develop our new personnel was hampered,” Pacheco said. “We started hiring parademics who didn’t necessarily have the same fire background that we would normally hire.”
Pacheco said this training is going to give those department members a chance to further their careers.
“Now these people are coming to an age in their careers where they need to take on leadership roles,” Pacheco said. “We need to make sure they are prepared to do so.”
Pacheco said they identified specific areas that were essential to the development of the department, including having them become certified instructors, having them certified as officers opening them up to leadership positions and training them to be incident safety officers.
“That was where we saw the need,” Pacheco said. “To grow this department and move it forward and make sure that these people were developing, we needed this. We were hampered. We couldn’t develop them because we couldn’t get together.”
As Priest, Hart and Cantor briefed Blumenthal on the recent operations of the department - including programs that delivered vaccines to homebound residents - the senator asked them what else they might need.
“You should let us know,” Blumenthal said. “These grants make a real difference, whether it’s equipment or training.”
Hart said that infrastructure is one thing that they are beginning to look at when it comes to the fire department. He said the town is starting a facility study now.
“We could improve our stations,” Hart said, “Many of our stations are dated. They are in great locations, but the sites are tight and could stand for substantial renovations. It’s been a few years since we’ve had anything significant done.”
“I believe we are getting the most important thing we need,” Priest said. “We have people listening and addressing our most critical needs. We have the support of our elected officials. Over a period of time we’re going to look at what the pandemic has taught us and making sure we have the right amount of resources availabe. This grant is needed and we’re very much appreciative.”