By Callie Hietala
Collinsville Board of Supervisors candidate Andrew Palmer and School Board candidate Ray Reynolds are raising funds for the Collinsville Volunteer Fire Department.
In just 48 hours, the two had amassed more than $4,000, they announced at an October 7 press conference. The effort is in response to a request for $957,200 in additional funding for Henry County’s volunteer fire departments that was presented to the Board of Supervisors at a recent meeting.
Fieldale’s Fire Chief Todd Norman made the request, speaking on behalf of all eight of the county’s volunteer fire departments. He told the board that there is a critical, county-wide need for turn-out gear (pants, coat, boots, helmet, and gloves) and air packs.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Norman said most fundraising activities have either been cancelled or scaled back, meaning departments are dealing with rising costs (a 6.3 percent annual increase between 2016 and 2019), and dwindling donations. He said the county’s volunteer fire departments have lost more than $74,000 in potential donations in 2020 compared to what was raised in 2019. Norman noted the county received $8.8 million in CARES Act funds, $80,000 of which was distributed to the fire departments ($10,000 per department.)
He added that the annual funds the departments receive from the county are put toward basic expenses such as fuel, insurance, repairs, and utilities, but do not typically cover major purchases like the turn-out gear and air packs.
Every fire department in the county has applied for funding through the Federal Emergency Managements Agency’s (FEMA) Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG), but a competitive grant process and decreasing funding available in the grant program have resulted in only two of the departments—Dyer’s Store and Ridgeway—receiving grant money in the last two years. The funds were used to purchase air packs. It was recently announced that the Collinsville department would also receive AFG grant funding for new air packs.
Currently, 71 air-packs have outlived their 15-year lifespan and must be replaced across four departments—Axton, Horsepasture, Patrick Henry, and Fieldale. Each pack is $7,500. All eight departments have a critical need for new turn-out gear, which has a lifespan of ten years. Norman requested a total of 137 new gear sets, each costing $3,100.
The supervisors did not take immediate action on the funding request.
Standing with Reynolds in front of the Collinsville Volunteer Fire Department last week, Palmer said that “first responders spoke up and said they felt Henry County wasn’t doing enough to provide equipment for them.” He and Reynolds decided they wanted to do something to help the volunteer fire department in their district. “We wanted to rally behind the community. We wanted to show the Collinsville Volunteer Fire Department that we do care about them, we hear their needs, and if the Board of Supervisors won’t act to help them out, we will personally.”
Reynolds said that one of the reasons he wanted to help the fire department is because, in 1997, his house caught fire and the Collinsville Volunteer Fire Department was first on the scene. Volunteer firefighter Jeff Wickline carried Reynolds out of the house and saved his life. “Ever since then, I’ve wanted to do something to give back.”
“The bottom line is you’ve got to take care of the people that take care of you,” Reynolds added.
The two men started making phone calls. Within 48 hours, they had collected the funds presented, along with promises of at least $1,000 more. The two said they intend to continue to raise money until election day. The next day, November 3, the donations collected will be presented to the department. The two also challenged county officials to match the funds raised.