JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (WJHL) — Volunteer firefighters from Washington County’s seven departments knew they needed to present a united front to make their case for a piece of the county’s $25 million-plus in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.

They did that, and they’ve been rewarded with $1.5 million that one chief said will allow each department to make crucial upgrades best suited to their needs. County commissioners passed a resolution approving the funding Monday, along with several other ARPA approvals.

Combined with more than $800,000 of matching funds from the departments themselves, it will bring big ticket items to each department.

“It just takes a huge amount of money to maintain, and that’s what we’ve been doing is maintaining and staying up with the standards to protect the firefighters, which in the end is going to protect the families and citizens we respond to,” Limestone VFD Chief Tim Jaynes said.

But the departments have dealt with a double whammy lately of rising costs for equipment and fewer opportunities to fundraise due to COVID-19. Without some extra help, replacing aging equipment in a timely way would have been nearly impossible for most of the departments.

“There’s no way right now we can do enough fish fries or bake sales or fundraisers to offset that,” Jaynes said. “You’re looking at over $800,000 in what we were already offsetting, the million and a half, so it’s going to be a huge win-win for the county.”

Engines, like the new one Limestone is getting, now cost $400,000. Air packs for firefighters cost up to $9,000 and even a standard uniform and gear runs close to $4,000. Jaynes said the firefighters association studied each department’s needs carefully and tailored the overall request to meet those. They range from industrial firefighting demands for Limestone and residential/commercial ones for Gray, Jonesborough and Sulphur Springs to the response challenges of narrow roadways and mountainous terrain for Nolichuckey and Embreeville VFDs.

“With the updated apparatus you get new technology, you get safer equipment,” Jaynes said. “This allows us to operate safer, operate more efficient. That translates into safer firefighters, it translates into faster response and a better job that we do when we do respond to an incident, which also helps us with our ISO rating, therefore saving county taxpayers homeowners’ insurance.”

Monday’s other ARPA approvals included:

  • $500,000 to go toward a nearly $1 million agriculture learning center to be located at the under-construction Jonesborough K-8 school. The state of Tennessee has pledged $270,000 toward the effort designed to teach gardening and small farming skills, proper preparation and healthy cooking skills and include a small commercial kitchen.
  • $620,669 to Washington County EMS for new “power load” systems for 16 of the county’s 26 ambulances that ease repetitive and often career-shortening strain on EMS workers.
  • $216,000 to Washington County Sheriff’s Office for 60 ballistic protection shields designed for “active shooter” situations.