PEMBROKE, Va. – Volunteer fire departments in Giles County are struggling to afford lifesaving equipment that keeps first responders and the community safe. A new grant is answering their call for help.
The Pembroke Volunteer Fire Department was awarded a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant worth more than $720,000 to buy an air compressor, 55 masks, and 99 new air packs self-contained breathing apparatus. All the apparatus will be split between every department in Giles County.
Without these air packs, Pembroke Fire Chief Christopher Neice said his firefighters couldn’t respond to calls
"Smoke with a house fire or even hazardous material spills, it provides fresh air for the firefighter," Neice said. "When they go in a fire situation, would actually, could damage your lungs severely, could burn your lungs so that you couldn't breathe. And firefighters have been killed because of that.”
Pembroke and every other department in the county have been in a tough spot the last few years because their equipment is either expired or about to expire.
"We bought ours in 2002," Neice said. "And the life of the cylinders is only 15 years.”
They’ve had to borrow tanks from other counties. Last week, they got the call they were awarded the grant.
"It was a real relief," said Wayne Woodyard, the assistant chief at the Poplar Hill department and a volunteer at Pembroke. Both of Woodyard's sons volunteer at Pembroke too.
“It's almost ¾ of a million dollars for something we’d never afford on our own," he said.
The department applied for the same grant last year, but didn't get it. So, they applied again this January.
The departments won’t get the new equipment until the spring, but knowing it’s on its way, Woodyard and Neice are breathing a sigh of relief.
“We’ve got a better chance of going home to the family when the day is done," Woodyard said. "That's the No. 1 thing for us."
"We're going to be taking care of our guys, giving them the best equipment that we can afford as possible. Just knowing that is a load off my mind," Neice said.