"As a department, we're really excited," Fire Chief Tim Stearley and Assistant Fire Chief Troy Nichols told The Brazil Times about the 28-year-old department activating a new emergency response unit, Rescue 66.
With the arrival of TransCare paramedic services in 2006, the Clay County Commissioners held a random drawing among four local volunteer fire departments to give away three leftover ambulances from Athens Ambulance Service, with the stipulation the "as-is" vehicles, which needed extensive work, would not be used for patient transport.
Nichols said firefighters put in a lot of their free time to get the 1997 GMC Trauma Hawk ambulance prepared for use as a Basic Life Support (BLS) vehicle during response to medical calls in the surrounding area.
"Clover Signs did the graphic work and we are very pleased with the outcome," Nichols said. "Andy and Melissa Allender, the owners of Clover Signs, are residents of Jackson Township, offered to help the department design the layout and apply the graphics."
Stearley said the unit could also be used as a technical support vehicle and a command center during a large emergency.
"This unit will be a great asset for the department," Stearley said. "It will help us do our jobs better."
The unit's unique logo, the Jackson Township Elementary Hornet inside a Maltese cross, was designed originally for a departmental patch a few years ago. Stearley said firefighters choose the design because of the close ties between the fire station and the elementary school next door.
"Many of our firefighters attended the school when they were younger and have children enrolled there now," Stearley said. "We work closely with the school by doing educational talks during fire prevention week and try to get over there for other programs throughout the year."
The Jackson Township fire department is an unusual venture because, unlike other local fire departments, there is no city within the township to provide financial support.
"We rely heavily on money received through taxes, fundraisers and especially donations from our community," Stearley said, adding that firefighters will be canvassing the area around with the department's newsletter during the weekend of March 8-9 to become more familiar with residents.
"The department applies for several grants each year and only is accepted for a few," Nichols said, adding the last grant received by the department was from the Dept. of Homeland Security for a new tanker engine in 2004.
Although difficult at times, the department has applied for many government and corporate grants over the years to help obtain equipment and other items that would normally be expensive to purchase using the limited operating budget.
According to Stearley and Nichols, the department made it a priority last year to apply for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant from the United States Department of Homeland Security for the purchase of personal protective equipment.
Commonly called "turn out" or "bunker" gear by firefighters, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) can be a costly expense for volunteer fire departments.
A firefighter's standard PPE includes a helmet with a mounted light, a Nomex hood, coat, pants, protective gloves, boots and a flashlight, which costs anywhere from $1,800 to $2,500.
Based on population of the township, the department had to match five percent (approximately $2,590 of the $52,000) of the grant, which was awarded on Nov. 16, 2007.
After a bidding process, the department accepted the bid provided by 5-Alarm Fire Equipment Representative Keith Holbert, who came to the department within two days to fit all department members for their new gear.
"The last of the equipment arrived at the department on Feb. 18," Nichols said. "This is top-of-the-line equipment and every firefighter in the department has new turn out gear, at no cost to local taxpayers."
Stearley said the department is also excited about entering the vast world of the Internet.
"We have a new department website," he said, adding it will soon be updated with pictures of training exercises and the department members. "Visitors can see a brief history of the department, find out about upcoming trainings and events, view our newsletter, learn about fundraising events and find out how to contact department members and the board of directors. We're trying to keep the community aware of what we are doing to be our best for when we are called upon to help."
To learn more about what is going on at Jackson Township Volunteer Fire Department, log onto http://www.jtvfd.com.