The Clay County Search and Rescue Unit received a much-needed financial boost Tuesday in the form of a Department of Homeland Security Assistance to Firefighters Grant.
The grant is part of the eighth round of the 2005 Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program, administered by the U.S. Fire Administration. The Clay County Search and Rescue Unit will receive an award in the amount of $39,170, most of which will be used for new equipment.
Todd McVey, Chief of the Clay County Search and Rescue Unit, said his department has struggled with substandard equipment for some time.
"We've fixed and patched and done what we could with it," he said.
McVey said the jaws-of-life currently used by his department are in urgent need of replacement.
"They're 30 years old and weigh about 118 pounds," he said. "Thirty percent of our staff is women. We need lighter equipment."
Clay County Emergency Management Director Brian Husband said the Search and Rescue Unit serves a wide variety of needs throughout the county.
"For years, they've been who they call for automobile wrecks and other types of rescues. They're out in the winter when the snow is bad, getting people off the roads and a lot of them are firefighters, so they're doing double duty," he said.
McVey supervises a staff of around 26 volunteers. He estimates 75-80 percent serve as firefighters with other departments. Others are paramedics, EMTs and first responders.
"Everybody has one certification or another and some have many of them," he said.
McVey's team specializes in auto extrication but serves county residents in a staggering number of ways. They assist, in some capacity, in every ambulance run in Brazil, aid in clean-up efforts after tornados and other natural disasters, and provide water and refreshments to firefighters at emergency scenes.
"We're a jack-of-all-trades, basically," he said.
The department's budget, Husband said, is sorely disproportionate to the quality of service they provide.
"The problem is, they're non-funded," he said. "The county gives them a little bit of money, but everything else they have to raise themselves."
McVey said he appreciates all the help Husband and the Emergency Management Department provide, but admits he is excited to receive additional funding. Any portion of the award not spent on equipment will be used to attain additional certifications for members of the Clay County unit.
"This grant will help us help our community better," he said.