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The Hughesville Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad received more than $160,000 in federal funds to improve operations and safety through the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program.

The department applied for grant funding to replace all of its self-contained breathing apparatus equipment.

U.S. Rep Steny H. Hoyer announced the department’s award last week.

“With firefighters and first responders putting their lives at risk to keep our community safe, we must do everything we can to support their work,” Hoyer (D-Md., 5th) said in a news release. “I’m pleased this funding will enhance the Department’s ability to do their jobs safely and effectively, and as co-chair of the Congressional Fire Caucus, I will continue to work with fire fighters in Maryland and throughout the country to ensure they have the resources and support they need.”

Hughesville VFD President Steven Cook said in a phone interview that the department needs to replace all of the breathing apparatus, which he said would cost about $250,000.

When budgeting each year and thinking of the big-ticket items, such as the breathing apparatus, members got to talking about the possibility of receiving grant funding. Late last year, the department wrote a grant and sent it in for consideration by the AFG program. For several months, the department could only wait and see how it would turn out.

Cook said he has been “sitting on the edge of my chair” waiting on the results.

He said the department requested $170,500 to replace 31 SCBAs, which he said cost $5,500 apiece. While the department needs to replace all 40, he said he didn’t want to ask for too much in the grant. To keep the number conservative, he asked for funding for all but nine.

The department was awarded $161,975, and the department will put up a 5 percent match.

Cook said he was pleased with the results because replacing all 40 packs, with the help of federal funding, will cost the department less than $50,000.

Receiving the grant, Cook said, is a big deal for the fire department, which he said has about 100 members.

“The bottom line is that the best equipment will be protecting the lives of men and women who give of their time so freely to help protect others in the community,” Cook said in a news release. “Maintaining the safety of our community and volunteers is our No. 1 priority. Having this grant funding is huge for our department and couldn’t have come at a better time.”

Cook said Hoyer, Sen. Roy P. Dyson, (D-St. Mary’s Calvert, Charles) and Del. John F. Wood (D-St. Mary’s, Charles) wrote letters of support for the department to the AFG program chair during the process. Cook said the department has plans to continue applying for grants when needed. AFG funding is awarded to fire departments and EMS organizations to enhance their response capabilities and more effectively protect the health and safety of the public and emergency response personnel, according to the release.

Hoyer helped establish the AFG program in 2001, and since then, more than $15 million has been awarded to 5th District fire departments.

gphillips@somdnews.com