When David Pittman, the Folsom area fire chief, learned that a grant he had sought from FEMA for two years had been awarded, the first thing he did was to offer a prayer of thanks, he said. Then he went out to his truck and broke down in tears.
"That's how elated I was,'' Pittman said.
The $1.06 million grant for radio and communications equipment, which was announced by U.S. Sen. David Vitter's office Wednesday, will be shared among eight north shore fire districts and the Covington Fire Department.
St. Tammany Fire Protection District No. 5, Pittman's district, was the host department in applying for the grant and organized the application.
Pittman first decided to seek the grant in 2015, he said, but he was told the department was too small to compete for the money and he should apply for a regional grant. He said he called every other fire district in St. Tammany Parish, and eight of them, along with Covington, agreed to participate.
The grant was approved in 2015 but not funded, Pittman said. But he was determined to try again, and this time the money was awarded.
The FEMA Fire Act Grant for Interoperable Communications will pay for new equipment for the participating departments. The local 10 percent match for the grant, $96,136, will be divided among the participating departments on a prorated basis.
The money will enable those districts to be part of the parish's radio system, Pittman said, something that all the fire districts have wanted but that had been out of reach financially. Communications among the parish, the Sheriff's Office, the school system, police departments and the fire districts will be direct and faster, he said.
The districts will keep their old radios as a backup, he said.
Vitter, in a statement, said that first responders save lives and keep communities safe, and it's important that they have access to up-to-date technology and equipment so they can do their jobs efficiently.
The Madisonville, Mandeville, Lee Road, Talisheek, Abita Springs, Pearl River and Goodbee districts are participating along with Folsom and Covington.