By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal Oxford Bureau
NEW ALBANY – Leaders of one local volunteer fire department hope a federal grant that will relieve some of the financial burden of volunteering will boost the ranks of its members.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has awarded $222,880 to Northeast Union Rural Fire Department Inc. The grant is part of FEMA’s Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER, program.
Members of Northeast Union have often been second- and third-generation firefighters, but residents’ work and other priorities are weakening that tradition, Chief Butch Cobb said.
“The … community is experiencing growth while at the same time losing its volunteer members due to family responsibilities and the rising costs associated with living,” Cobb said. “Members who were once very active now find themselves having to work more hours and second jobs.”
The grant will provide a stipend for both current firefighters and the anticipated new recruits of $10 an hour for time spent on emergency calls and required training.
“We’re going to be one of the very few volunteer departments in the state that can do that,” Cobb said. “With the economy the way it is, that’s going to help relieve some of the financial burden of being a firefighter.”
Northeast Union is one of four fire departments in Mississippi to win one of the competitive SAFER grants. Others include volunteer departments in Lauderdale and Clarke counties and the professional department in Ocean Springs.
According to FEMA, the SAFER grant “was created to provide funding directly to fire departments and volunteer firefighter interest organizations in order to help them increase the number of trained, ‘front line’ firefighters available in their communities. The goal of SAFER is to enhance the local fire departments’ abilities to comply with staffing, response and operational standards.”
Cobb said the enhanced staffing will better equip his department to provide rural residents with both preventive and emergency services.
“Our mission is to reduce losses of life and property due to fire and other emergencies,” he said.
Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or firstname.lastname@example.org.