UNICOI, Tenn. (WJHL)- The Unicoi County Volunteer Fire Department received a grant to help them recruit and train new firefighters.
The grant not only allows the department to recruit more volunteers but also provides funding for gear, adequate training, health physicals, immunizations and more. Dustin Ledford, Admin Support and Grants Coordinator for Unicoi County VFD said the grant will benefit the department as a whole.
“We can’t say enough about this grant,” said Ledford. “Because it covers so many areas that historically we just have never been able to really fund.”
Ledford told News Channel 11 that 70% of all firefighters in the United States are volunteers, which means they don’t receive compensation.
“The sad part about it is nowadays my generation doesn’t see the value in volunteerism,” said Ledford. “I would like to see that change.”
The department currently has 15 members on staff but they hope to increase those numbers with the grant funding. Randall Oaks Assistant Fire Chief at Unicoi County VFD said the goal is to have enough staff members to pull for overnight duties.
“During the day time is really when our hardest times are due to the short staffing,” said Oaks. “We would love to see our numbers grow to at least 30, but it’s hard with volunteers to get people to volunteer with this day and time.”
The department has plans to renovate their living quarters to make the crew’s overnight work more comfortable.
“We’re here for sometimes extended periods of time during certain severe weather situations,” said Ledford. “It’s nice to have a place where it’s like your own home, comfortable, nice, and safe. Our community comes here in times of crisis, for shelter. It’s an added benefit all around.”