PETERSBURG, Va. (WRIC) — Gene Beemer and Jim Tasha have more than 70 years combined experience fighting fires in Petersburg.
Now the two retirees spend much of their time restoring houses.
However, the two men are still active in their firefighters’ union and were recently disappointed over the repossession of recently acquired breathing gear.
“Basically, the city got a grant from the federal government to purchase the brand new air packs. The government wrote a check to the City of Petersburg earmarked specifically for the air packs instead of putting the money aside to a special account,” Beemer said. “Because it was allocated as a grant, they put the money in general funds and the money is gone and the vendors have not been paid.”
Beemer said the air packs were necessary because they allowed firefighters the opportunity to breathe inside burning buildings.
“We wear them when we go inside a burning building. Anytime you walk inside the house and it’s burning, you have to put these air packs on to breathe to go in,” he said. “If the guys don’t have the proper equipment so they can go in and fight the fire, we’re not going to be able to save the lives of people who are trapped inside burning buildings and we can’t get them without the air packs.”
Beemer said that without the new air packs, the firefighters will have to rely on older models that no longer function properly.
“So what’s going to eventually happen, if the air packs they got now keep failing, we’re going to have to fight fires from the outside, which means lives will be lost and more property will be damaged,” Beemer said. “So, it’s a lose – lose situation for the entire city.”
A spokeswoman for Petersburg said the grant was for $568,440 and that $18,300 of it was spent on turn-out gear for the firefighters. According to the spokesperson, the city is still trying to determine where the remaining funds went.