‘It will help tremendously’: Upshur volunteer fire departments grateful for $10K in state grant funding

BUCKHANNON – Governor Jim Justice recently announced the State of West Virginia is granting every volunteer fire department in the Mountain State $10,000 in funding.

According to a press release from the governor’s office, all 419 volunteer fire departments in West Virginia would be receiving the grant funds to help them make up for not being able to host community fundraisers. In total, $4.19 million in funding will be disbursed.

Locally, several Upshur County volunteer fire departments said the cash will come in handy amid widespread uncertainty about the length and severity of the coronavirus pandemic, which has waxed and waned.

Buckhannon Fire Department Chief J.B. Kimble said the city station would also use the money to recoup costs from purchasing more personal protective equipment due to COVID-19.

Although the city fire department is regularly staffed with full-time paid, or career, firefighters, it additionally has a volunteer wing.

“Some fire departments, like ours, have had a lot of expenses because of COVID-19 – especially the PPE we had to buy in the beginning – because it wasn’t readily available,” Kimble explained. “Since mid-May, the state has been providing items like safety goggles and gloves for us, but in the beginning stages from approximately February to May, we to buy those supplies ourselves.”

He said in March, April and May, he spent roughly $1,500 in his city-allocated budget on PPE, alcohol wipes, disinfectant spray and other similar supplies.

Washington District Volunteer Fire Company Chief Kevin Huffman said the Tallmansville-area fire company had to cancel its biggest fundraiser of the year due to COVID-19 – the well-attended chicken barbecue.

“We usually do pretty well with our chicken barbecue, but that’s pretty much the only fundraiser we do each year,” Huffman said. “We figure with people paying the fire fee, we don’t want to ask a whole lot of them. We rely on our chicken barbecue to keep funds coming in to keep us going.”

Huffman said they also lost revenue from renting out their station for various events, but in terms of receiving supplies, the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security and Office of Emergency Management has helped them.

He said the $10,000 was a surprise and will definitely help them recoup some costs.

“It will help tremendously,” Huffman said. “We’ve used our reserve fund for paying our electric bill and that kind of stuff, so we want to replenish that, unless there is some kind of stipulation that it has to be used for this or that.”

He said one of their long-term goals is to eventually put money toward a new station because theirs was built in 1968, but that may not come to fruition for some time.

“I don’t feel that we are in that much of a need of more than the $10,000, at this point, to keep the organization going,” Huffman said. “If a major expense comes up, which could happen tomorrow, then we would need more, but just from what we have spent and what’s coming in, I think the $10,000 will be good at this point in time.”

Adrian Volunteer Fire Department Chief Rick Harlow said his department may bank the money for a while and see how long COVID-19 lasts. Or, if the department’s membership agrees, they may opt to use the funds to replace old air pack bottles.

“We have a ‘necessity list’ when I do the budget, and then we have a ‘wish list,’ so if we rent a building, or we do well with a fundraiser, or somebody makes a donation, we have a wish list of stuff that we need, but it’s not going to make or break us,” Harlow said.

However, in 2020 thus far, the department “hasn’t even been able to think about a wish list this year,” Harlow said. “So, it’s hit us a little bit.”

Harlow said they may use the money to replace some old hoses and air pack bottles.

“We have some hoses that are getting pretty old, and our air pack bottles are within three years of expiring and they were about $700 apiece,” Harlow said. “We have 30 of them, and this would be up to the membership, but if I had to give you a guess, we’re probably going to start replacing the bottles with that $10,000.”

Read Justice’s press release regarding the money here.

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