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SAFER grant goes to work for firefighters

By Staff | Oct 20, 2017

Chronicle photo by Toni Milbourne Allen Keyser serves as a recruiter for volunteer firefighters through a SAFER grant obtained by Jefferson County. He shared the story of Jefferson County’s “Can You Stand the Heat” campaign.

CHARLES TOWN – Can you stand the heat? So asks the advertising promotion recruiting volunteer firefighters within Jefferson County.

The county received a SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant totally $960,000 nearly a year ago to recruit, train and supply volunteers in the county fire system. With part of that grant money, the county has hired Allen Keyser to serve in the role of Volunteer Fire Recruitment Coordinator. In that capacity, Keyser shared information with those who recently attended the Jefferson County Homeland Security and Emergency Management quarterly partnership meeting.

When speaking, Keyser discussed the heavy decline in volunteer services over time, due, he said, to a variety of factors including jobs, family commitments and sometimes even the expense involved in serving as a volunteer. This decline in volunteerism is not local to Jefferson, Keyser said, but is being felt across the nation.

“My goal is to recruit 100 firefighters in the four years of the grant,” Keyser said.

That includes having the volunteers vetted through one of the local fire departments and accepted into membership. That also includes the volunteer successfully completing the national physical which can be a challenge.

“As of today, I have 87 new recruits in the program. Of those, 45 have passed their physical,” he said.

While those numbers are impressive and well on the way to reaching his self-imposed goal within only one year, Keyser said that doesn’t mean he will stop his efforts to continue to recruit quality volunteers to serve in the county’s fire and EMS systems.

“This county does more with less than anyplace I have seen,” Keyser said. “Those who serve do so because of their love for and commitment to their county.”

The recruitment program will pay to train and equip these new volunteer recruits so that they can hit the ground running following completion of their physical and other necessary training.

Equipment costs alone for one firefighter range near $3,000 and that does not include approximately $500 per class for firefighter 1 and 2 classes and EMT classes should the volunteer choose that route. Add in $692 to take the physical and it is easy to see why costs are sometimes prohibitive for those seeking to volunteer. This is where the grant steps in and makes it feasible monetarily for one to serve as a volunteer firefighter in the community.

The grant, Keyser said, also has a component for tuition reimbursement should a volunteer wish to go to school. The assistance can total up to $8,000 over four years for those who are active members in good standing of one of the companies in the county.

Keyser hopes the snowball effect of adding recruits continues and is taking every opportunity to share information on the program by visiting various club and organization meetings. He also regularly visits both high schools in the county to share with the youth what they can do to serve. The students at James Rumsey also hear from him quite often.

“These kids are thirsty for something to do,” Keyser said.

Those interested in the volunteer program through the SAFER grant, can find more information online www.standtheheatwv.com or by calling Keyser directly at 304-725-9111.