Among health and safety concerns facing firefighters, hearing loss doesn’t readily come to mind – except among firefighters.

“It’s a big concern in the fire prevention business,” Pekin Fire Department Chief Kurt Nelson said Monday. Inside a racing fire engine with its siren blaring, “The noise is so loud you can’t hear yourself talk.”

A grant from the Illinois American Water Co. will help address that issue in Pekin, while similar grants to three nearby fire departments will provide upgrades to their members’ safety and equipment.

They were among 75 departments statewide that requested, and received, more than $75,000 in funds from the company’s annual Firefighter Grant Program. All of the departments are within Illinois American’s service areas, said company spokeswoman Karen Cotton.

The Tazewell departments awarded grants announced last week are Pekin, which is receiving $1,000; Cincinnati Fire Protection District, $972; Schaeferville Fire Protection District, $875; and North Pekin Fire Department, $800.

Pekin also received a grant last year, while North Pekin has seen its requests granted each year since the program began in 2010, said department Chief Chad Plemons.

Nelson said he’ll use the Illinois American grant to help cover the total $10,800 cost for four sets of radio-equipped ear muffs for its Station Three fire engine serving the city’s south side.

Purchased about a year ago, “It’s our newest engine,” he said. “We were tight on funds” and withheld equipping it with the special ear muffs at the time.

The muffs protect firefighters’ ears but also comes equipped with radio equipment that enables firefighters in the engine to speak to each other and to the department’s emergency dispatchers, Nelson said.

Among the other departments:

• The Cincinnati district will use its grant to purchase 28 fire hoods, comprised of heat-resistant material, that cover firefighters’ heads and shoulder areas.

• Schaeferville sought its grant to defray the cost of replacing a broken gas detector.

• North Pekin will purchase two fire hydrant valves and a valve for its water tanker truck, enabling it to fill faster, Plemons said.

Cotton said Illinois American has awarded more than 425 grants totaling about $417,000 since its grant program began.

“We don’t ever turn any (requesting department) away,” she said. Last year, due to the high number of requests, each department received $700, she said.

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