BINGHAMTON N.Y. (WIVT/WBGH) – Today, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announced $574,545 in federal funding for the City of Cortland to purchase new Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to help keep firefighters in the Cortland, Marathon, and Willet Fire Department’s safe.

The funding was allocated through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) Program. Schumer and Gillibrand led the charge in the Senate to save federal firefighting programs that are set to expire at the end of this year.

Schumer and Gillibrand explained the funding will go towards purchasing new PPE for the Cortland Fire Department, Marathon Fire Department, and Willet Fire Department. Specifically, the money will be used to purchase new self-breathing breathing apparatuses (SCBA) that are in line with modern safety standards. The new SCBAs will replacing the outdated systems currently being used by the department, which are past their useful life and require expensive maintenance to keep operational.

“It would be almost impossible for us to afford these new SCBAs without this award,” Town of Willet Fire Department Chief Greg McGowan.

The Cortland Fire Department expects to receive 52 new SCBAs, the Marathon Fire Department will receive 17, and the Willet Fire Department will receive 10. SCBAs are required for firefighters to operate in environments that are immediately dangerous to their lives, including low oxygen or toxic environments.

“Receiving this grant couldn’t have come at a more convenient time as it will replace our 15 year old air packs that are continually having maintenance issues.  Also, this grant is a huge saving to our tax payers.  The district will only be responsible to cover 10% of the cost for our 17 new SCBA packs, spare bottles and face pieces,” Marathon Fire Department Chief Norm Forrest said.

The Cortland Fire Department is a combination district with 64 active, paid members serving a population of over 17,500. Marathon Fire Department has approximately 50 active members serving a population of over 4,500 people across the Village of Marathon, Town of Marathon, Town of Lapeer, and much of Freetown. Willet Fire Department has 15 active members serving a population of just under 1,000 across over 26 square miles.

“The award of this Assistance to Firefighters grant to the City of Cortland is critical to the safety of our firefighters, and ultimately to our fire department’s ability to protect the residents of Cortland,” Cortland Fire Department Chief Wayne Friedman said. “I cannot thank Senator Schumer enough for coming through time and time again for the Cortland Fire Department. His hard work and efforts are appreciated by our entire community.”

Schumer and Gillibrand have secured millions for Cortland through the AFG and SAFER grant programs, including over $400,000 this past March to help the city recruit and train the next generation of firefighters. Schumer originally created the AFG Program in 1999, which later expanded to also include the SAFER program. The AFG and SAFER grant programs are administered by the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide funding directly to fire departments and volunteer firefighter interest organizations to purchase essential equipment and help them increase the number of trained, “front line” firefighters available in their communities. The grants are awarded on a competitive basis to the applicants that most closely address the program’s priorities and demonstrate financial need.

Earlier this year, Schumer and Gillibrand led the charge to pass the Fire Grants and Safety Act of 2023 in the Senate. This act reauthorized funding for the United States’ Fire Administration, the AFG, and SAFER Grant Program through 2030.