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County fire department receives $131,000 grant

The Screven County Fire Department has won a $131,500 federal grant to purchase firefighting equipment.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency and Department of Homeland Security will chip in 95 percent of that total, or about $125,000. Screven County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to contribute the remaining 5 percent, or $6,600.

The money will be spent on such things as portable radios, clothing for firefighting, breathing machines and fitness machines, said Fire Chief Harvey Cryder.

“It’s stuff we were going to have to purchase” anyway, said Commissioner Gregg Ellison. “It’s coming at a great time.”

The equipment is especially needed since a new class of volunteers recently graduated, Cryder said. The new recruits had clothing that was good enough for training but would not be good enough to use in a burning building, he said.

“It helps us a lot,” Cryder said of the grant. “It helps tremendously.”

The annual, 70-hour training course for volunteer firefighters recently ended. At the beginning of the class, 39 people were enrolled. Seven dropped out. The remaining 32 finished the course and were certified to fight fires, Cryder said.

Out of those 32, 16 returned for additional training that certifies them to work as volunteer firefighters nationwide. They finished the extra courses on Saturday.

Even with the new recruits, Cryder said he’d like to see an additional 30 volunteers. The next class is set for early next year, but anyone interested in volunteering should come right away and start attending monthly training sessions, he said.

Cryder said after the department is finished spending the grant money, it still will need equipment for another 15 firefighters. The department will try to get another grant, he said.

“It’s a good start,” Cryder said. “It cuts in half” the number of new suits needed.

The fire chief said many volunteers are attracted to the department’s retirement plan. Retire today as a volunteer firefighter with 20 years of service and you’ll draw $900 a month in retirement. The county pays into the pension fund for volunteer firefighters.