|Updated: 7/02/2012 10:08 pm
||Published: 7/02/2012 7:49 pm
LITTLE ROCK, AR - At a time when many volunteer fire departments are strapped for cash and volunteers, there is now help through a FEMA grant to supplement benefits coverage.
Volunteer firefighters say they're overworked and don't get paid. The state provides some money in case of emergency when a rural volunteer firefighter gets hurt. A FEMA grant now provides $694,000 to help supplement insurance coverage, providing disability and workers compensation. Benefits Manager with the Association of Arkansas Counties, Becky Comet, says active rural firefighters used to receive $20 weekly in workers compensation for their disability and income replacement. This grant increases that by $100 per week for a total of $120 per week."
Comet says the goal is to help volunteer recruitment and retention, and provide stability for firefighters and their families. "We hope this is an opportunity at add some piece of mind for them."
Cpt. Gil Carpenter with the Salem Fire Department says any help is a plus. "It's a job that does not pay and you have to meet certain training requirements." He says volunteer fire fighting is a huge sacrifice, taking time away from family, and giving up nights and weekends to fight fires. "It takes a special person to go out there and lay down their life on the line for a family member, community member, or even someone passing through from another state."
Cpt. Carpenter says more volunteers are needed, but the grant money is a show of appreciation for those who do so much for so little. "A hundred dollars a week extra may mean the difference between a firefighter eating, or their families eating, and not eating."
Right now the focus is on spreading the word about the grant to volunteer rural firefighters across the state. County-wide meetings will be scheduled soon to explain the funding. The grant took effect May 1st and lasts 4 years until 2016.