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The original item was published from 10/9/2019 9:36:13 AM to 1/1/2020 5:05:02 PM.

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Posted on: October 9, 2019

[ARCHIVED] $527,250 awarded for firefighters

The North Wilkesboro Fire Department has been awarded $527,250 by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to fund salaries of four new part-time firefighters, a volunteer firefighter recruiting program and related expenses.

The town received word of the approval last week. “It was a shock, but it was a good shock,” said Town Manager Wilson Hooper during a work session of the North Wilkesboro Board of Commissioners on Thursday.

Fire Chief Jimmy Martin told the board during the meeting, “I think this will be a good thing for the fire department and, above all else, a great thing for the citizens of the town of North Wilkesboro.”

The money is from FEMA’s Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant program and will be awarded over a four-year period. It requires no local match.

Part of the grant will fund the salaries of four new part-time firefighters on the basis of $12 an hour, not to exceed 28 hours a week. They will have daily station duties and attend public-relations events in addition to responding to calls, said Martin.

The funds will also be used to establish a recruitment program for new volunteers, supplement training costs for all volunteers and potentially increase per-call pay of the fire department’s volunteer members. They are now paid $12 per call.

Martin said that once the grant is accepted, the program must be up and running in 90 days.

After four years, the town must apply for additional SAFER grant dollars, continue funding the program some other way or drop it. Martin said he hoped the board would consider allocating funds to continue the program at that point.

Commissioner Debbie Ferguson responded, “It’s really time for us to step up and be sure we have more solid (fire) coverage for our citizens. This is how we start doing that—steps at a time.”

Hooper said the fire department already has three firefighters paid full-time and three paid part-time by the town. The fire department has around 25 volunteer firefighters.

“This grant will not only allow us to increase our pool of volunteers, but it will increase the training for everybody, making them even better at what they do,” added Hooper.

Hooper said “low per-call pay and the town’s modest fire training budget” led to a shrinking roster of volunteers who respond to calls and adversely impacted the town’s ability to meet industry standards for emergency staffing levels.

Martin said that since he joined the fire department in 1982, volunteer participation there has dropped every year. “There will come a day and time that (the department) will no longer be volunteer,” he added.

Robbie Bolin, paid by the Town of Wilkesboro as a fulltime Wilkesboro firefighter and deputy chief of the Millers Creek Fire Department, wrote the application for the grant in March and sought $642,000.

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