It’s called a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and the DeKalb County Fire Rescue Department needs to replace its inventory of 325.
But the $2 million needed to replace the malfunctioning SCBAs was not included in DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis’ proposed 2012 budget.
Since the fire rescue department started using the SCBAs in 2009, there have been numerous potentially dangerous problems.
“We have numerous kinks [in the devices],” said county Fire Chief Eddie O’Brien during a meeting of the Board of Commissioners’ finance committee on Feb. 9. “A lot of them are potentially catastrophic.”
Worn by fire rescue personnel to provide breathable air during fires and other emergency situations, the devices have malfunctioned 22 times during an emergency, O’Brien said.
In one incident a fireman was approaching a burning building during a training exercise when “the bottle popped loose….with 4,500 pounds of pressure and, luckily, just shot across the parking lot and hit the fence,” O’Brien said. “Fortunately, we haven’t had any serious incidents.”
Many of the devices have been sent back to the manufacturer to repair problems with their quick-release connections for the pressurized air bottles and battery connections.
“There are too many issues that could pop up,” O’Brien said.
County commissioners Elaine Boyer and Lee May, members of the finance committee, expressed concern that the devices were not included in Ellis’ proposed budget.
“Is there anything any more important?” May said.
“Breathing is important,” Boyer said.
The commissioners suggested that O’Brien ask the administration to reconsider including the SBCAs in the budget.
“I think this should be a priority,” May said. “This is dealing with public safety.”
One by one, county department heads have appeared before the Board of Commissioners’ finance committee to justify their budgets before the commissioners adopt the 2012 budget on Feb. 28.
Ellis has proposed a county budget of $547.3 million, which is 1.2 percent higher than last year’s, and does not include a tax increase. But the finance committee, concerned that Ellis’ revenue predictions are too optimistic, has asked department heads to come up with a plan to cut 5 or 10 percent from their budgets, if necessary.
Response times to emergencies may increase if the county’s fire rescue department has to decrease its proposed budget for 2012, O’Brien said.
If the DeKalb County Fire Rescue Department decreases its proposed $56.4 million budget by 5 percent, or $2.8 million, the department would have to cut 47 positions, O’Brien told county commissioners on Feb. 9.
Among the possible cuts would be to eliminate a fire truck and its 16-person company. That move would save the county $1.36 million. Another idea is to close a fire rescue station, which would also cut 16 people and save $1.36 million.
In addition to slower response times, O’Brien said, possible budget cuts would mean a reduction in specialty teams and services, employee morale and customer service. The department would also be forced to its community educational cut back opportunities such as child car seat installation, fire extinguisher classes and senior citizen classes.
While many departments have asked for more money, O’Brien said, “We can live in the amount we were given, if we can get some help with the [SCBAs].”