Piedmont fire chief compares recent grant to striking gold; award will help retain, recruit firefighters
by Laura Gaddy
lbgaddy@annistonstar.com
Feb 15, 2014 | 4704 views |  0 comments | 98 98 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Piedmont Fire Station.  The Piedmont Fire Department got a $600,000 grant to help increase the number of volunteers who work shifts there.   (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
The Piedmont Fire Station. The Piedmont Fire Department got a $600,000 grant to help increase the number of volunteers who work shifts there. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
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The Piedmont Fire Department learned this month that it will receive a $600,000 federal grant in June to increase manpower and improve its ability to respond to emergencies.

The money will come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER, grant program. Piedmont’s money will support the volunteer base the local department depends upon by promoting recruitment and retention.

“We have been applying for all grants that have opened up through FEMA for several years,” said Piedmont fire Chief Mike Ledbetter. “This is like striking gold.”

The award outweighs the fire department’s annual budget of about $375,000, but it must be used over the next four years, Ledbetter said.

Mike Green is the president of the Alabama Association of Volunteer Fire Departments. He said there are 30,000 volunteer firefighters serving 1,016 departments in Alabama.

“If they can get a SAFER grant for anything, it’s huge for a volunteer fire department,” Green said, adding that competition for the grants is intense. “It comes down to very little for each state, and if they get one it’s very uncommon.”

The money will be used to reimburse volunteer firefighters for responding to emergency calls and for attending training courses. It also will be used to pay for volunteer firefighters’ specialized medical exams and to hire one full-time volunteer retention officer.

“This is going to work out very good for us,” Ledbetter said.

The money will also be used to pay two volunteers $50 each to stay at the station overnight, a move that will bump the number of on-duty certified personnel from two to four. The change will help the department improve their emergency response practices, Ledbetter said.

“It can save a lot of time,” Ledbetter said. “It puts more trucks on the scene quickly, plus it puts certified people on the scene quicker.”

Currently, two paid employees man the station each night. If a fire is reported, the employees grab their equipment and drive a fire truck to the scene.

While the paid employees are en route to the problem, the department’s volunteer firefighters are notified of the fire and drive to the station from their homes. Once they arrive at the station, the firefighters grab their equipment and head to the scene, arriving several minutes after the paid employees.

Once the change occurs, the department will have enough manpower to drive two trucks to the scene from the station before the remaining volunteers arrive.

“That’s a very good thing,” said Phillip Winkles, director of the Piedmont Rescue Squad. “They can get out the door in two or three minutes with two fire trucks.”

Piedmont Fire is staffed with four paid employees, six part-time firefighters and 19 volunteer firefighters, almost all of which are certified. The volunteer members of the department are reimbursed $15 for each call they respond to, and for each weekly training event they attend, Ledbetter said.

Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.

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