Local volunteer fire departments granted $100K in American Rescue Plan Act funds  

Cullman County Association of Volunteer Fire Departments officers pose with Cullman County Commissioner Corey Freeman after receiving new, much-needed equipment on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023. Left to right are Tim Martin, Corey Freeman, Brandon Williams and Toby Bates. (Cayla Grace Murphy)

VINEMONT, Ala. – It was all smiles Thursday evening, Nov. 16, as members of the Cullman County Association of Volunteer Fire Departments received $100,000 worth of new equipment and funds to strengthen their departments’ operations. Even the burliest firefighter cracked a smile at being awarded new thermal imagers to help a variety of situations, a fund to purchase hazardous material equipment as needed and a new Kongsberg sonar system to assist in search and recovery on area lakes.

Cullman County Commissioner Corey Freeman shared that the grant funds that made everything possible were a year in the making, with the commission putting the ball in his court on getting with the firefighters and assessing needs.

“I’m involved with fire service myself, so the commission gave it to me to deal with,” he laughed.

Freeman shared that while the commission allocates funding each year for the association and departments, It was not possible this time.

“Out of general budget, it was just impossible. With state ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds, we were able to allocate, at the State’s approval, $100,000 to go towards the association,” Freeman said.

After attending monthly meetings, and touching base with several departments across the county, Freeman and the members came up with solutions.

“There was a lot of departments that didn’t have thermal imagers, and we had a lot of requests over the years for specialty tools. For a majority of the people countywide, thermal imaging cameras was a priority. You know, those are utilized for structure fires, missing persons and so on,” said Freeman. “Then search and recovery on the lake – they had asked us two years in a row for help on that. We were able to get with them, apply for some bids and was able to purchase them a Kongsberg system, which is a drop-down sonar.”

He continued, “Some of the money that was left over we were able to allocate towards HAZMAT. We set some money aside in an account at the commission that HAZMAT can purchase equipment out of.”

He smiled, “It’s something I was proud to be a part of, and represent the commission on, because it benefits all 26 (volunteer) departments across the county and not just one or two.”

Toby Bates, officer of the association and chief of the Logan Volunteer Fire Department, shared that the equipment purchased because of this grant will not only serve the local community, but also the region and state.

“There’s several departments around the lake that has lake coverage. For the past few years, we haven’t had the ability to get out on the lake, especially for drowning victims. We’ve had to call outside agencies to bring their sonars in,” said Bates. “It takes them a day or two to get here, and then they can only be here for a limited time, all while we’re sitting here with a drowning victim in the water and we can’t do anything. With the lake here in Cullman County, we felt like it was our responsibility to find the equipment to do what we could to help.”

Logan, Crane Hill and Trimble VFDs previously pooled their resources to raise $150,000 for a boat and sonar, but the particular sonar the commission was able to acquire is a much-needed piece of equipment to work around the deep timber in the lake, said Bates, who explained that  the two work best in tandem and are often used by search and rescue teams in Daphne, Alabama.

“That’s going to help us tremendously because anytime we call outside resources, those are the two pieces of equipment that they bring,” he said.

Bates said the equipment will help locally, and now local departments can help in other counties as well, if needed, recovering drowning victims.

“Not only is it going to cover Smith Lake, but any surrounding lakes in the state of Alabama, we’ll be able to take that equipment and assist,” he nodded.

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