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Petersburg money woes put crucial firefighting equipment in jeopardy

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PETERSBURG, Va. -- The federal government awarded Petersburg a $380,000 grant for new air tanks and masks for city firefighters.

But according to a retired fire captain, the equipment arrived and sat in the corner of firehouses until Wednesday when, after non-payment, the gear was returned to the vendor.

The masks and tanks firefighters are using to fight the smoke and flames in Petersburg are over a decade old.

"They’ve been on the fire trucks and in Petersburg for the last 12 years,” said retired fire captain Jim Tash. “That's 365 days a year and 24/7."

Retired fire captain Jim Tash

Retired fire captain Jim Tash

Tash said they had new, more modern gear waiting to be used, until it was abruptly repossessed Wednesday.

"Very disappointed. The poor guys in Petersburg… They’ve been the stepchildren for years and years and years,” Tash added.

The fire department was recently awarded a FEMA grant for $380,000.

As Tash understood it, that money was never sent to the company that was providing the gear and was instead put into a general fund for the city.

“Is that illegal to get a federal grant for one thing and put it in another fund for something else?” CBS 6 reporter Jon Burkett asked acting Petersburg City Manager Dironna Moore Belton.

Belton

Dironna Moore Belton

“It's not illegal as the city has submitted and had caffers annually and so they at the audit time they separate the funds out to their appropriate places,” she responded.

Moore Belton has only been on the job since March and she admitted she's been putting out a lot of fires.

"I’m not sure of the exact status,” she said. “I am told that the fire department has been contacted in order to give all the clarifying things to me. I did just return today (vacation).”

Tash said he certainly hopes the funding flop doesn't cause a firefighter to get seriously injured or worse while on the job.

"The right hand never tells the left hand what's going on in this city. Then everyone acts surprised when something comes up," added Tash.

CBS 6 did reach out to the sales rep that supplied the gear to Petersburg Fire for comment, but they declined.

City officials say they're in contact with fire leadership but still can't confirm if the gear is still in Petersburg or if it indeed has been repossessed like Tash claims.