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Warner announces $1.3M grant for first responders
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U.S. Sen. Mark Warner visited the area Thursday. He announced a $1.3 million grant to help Henry County hire 13 paid first responders. Warner also discussed his views on the Affordable Care Act, minimum wage and more. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)

Friday, January 24, 2014

By BEN R. WILLIAMS - Bulletin Staff Writer

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner visited the Dyers Store Volunteer Fire Department on Thursday to formally announce a $1.3 million grant that will provide Henry County with 13 additional paid first responders.

The $1,355,829 Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant initially was announced during a Dec. 17 meeting of the Henry County Board of Supervisors.

“This money comes out of the Department of Homeland Security,” Warner said, through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

During the announcement, he said he also wanted to “celebrate the volunteer.”

“You’ve got 48,000 volunteer fire personnel and rescue personnel around the commonwealth of Virginia,” he said. “They do a great job. ... We couldn’t provide the level of service that is necessary without your willingness to give back to your community.”

Warner also addressed concerns that volunteer fire departments would be forced to provide health coverage for their volunteers under the Affordable Care Act, a move that, had it occurred, likely would have shuttered many volunteer fire departments.

He said that forcing volunteer fire departments to provide health coverage for volunteers was “never the intent of the legislation.”

“I’m happy to report that we got the administration ... to clarify that the Affordable Care Act implications do not cover the volunteers. Folks can continue getting their health care through the normal means,” said Warner, a Democrat.

“We’ve got at least one less thing to worry about in terms of trying to get that (the Affordable Care Act) fixed,” he added.

According to Henry County Department of Public Safety Director Rodney Howell, the 13 additional responders covered by the grant will offer the county “an extra three people, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It also gives us a volunteer coordinator, and that individual will be assisting the volunteer fire departments and rescue squads with training, recruitment, response to emergency incidents and emergency preparedness.”

A lack of fire and EMS volunteers is a national problem, Howell said, made worse by the increasing amount of training volunteers must undergo and the increasing number of emergency calls each year. He estimated that the county currently has around 150 active fire and rescue volunteers.

“It’s hard to get good volunteers, and it’s hard to keep them,” he said. “That’s the purpose of this grant. These additional responders will be able to take some of the load off of (the volunteers).”

Howell said the additional first responders also will help to reduce response time. He expects the new responders to be hired and in place by early March.

“The ones we’re hiring are already trained,” Howell said. “They may not have everything we need, but they’ll have most of it. We’re going to be able to put them to work at the first of March. We’ve already gotten quite a few applications, and I’m really excited about the quality of applicants.”

“They’re just going to supplement our volunteers,” Howell added. “They’re definitely not going to be able to take their place.”


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