PELL CITY – The St. Clair County Commission voted Tuesday to allocate $10,000 to Pell City when the money is formally requested from the council for a new firefighting program for high school students, but there are stipulations.

The commission approved the funds on condition that the Pell City Fire Department becomes a member and remains active in the St. Clair County Fire & EMS Association.

The approval came after a lengthy discussion about the program and about the Pell City Fire Department’s non-membership and non-participation in the St. Clair County Fire & EMS Association.

“I support your effort,” St. Clair County Commission Chairman Stan Batemon told Pell City Fire Department Training Officer Jeff Parrish at Tuesday morning’s work session, which was held prior to the regular meeting at which the commission approved the funding for the Fire and Emergency Services course for high school students.

Batemon said it is important that the Pell City Fire Department belong to the county organization, and it could be beneficial to both the Pell City Fire Department and to the St. Clair County Fire & EMS Association.

“The association could use your help,” he said.

Batemon said it is also important for Pell City, because the city is on “thin ice” when it comes to receiving the 2 mill tax designated for volunteer fire departments.

Pell City currently receives a portion of the 2 mill tax, but Batemon said it is really for volunteer fire departments to divide equally, not for non-volunteer fire departments like Pell City.

Pell City Fire Chief Mike Burdette told the commission that the department dropped membership from the St. Clair County Fire & EMS Association because of budget restraints.

“It was either that or a position,” Burdette said.

Batemon said membership into the association is only $200 a year, but Burdett said it cost the city about $1,000 to participate and many of the association’s voting items do not pertain to the Pell City Fire Department.

Burdette said the Pell City Fire Department is glad to train any volunteer firefighter or assist any volunteer fire department in St. Clair County.

Commissioner Paul Manning said the Pell City Fire Department has assisted in unincorporated areas and in neighboring cities, like Ragland, when called out on emergencies.

Parrish told the commission that there are currently six students enrolled in the Fire and Emergency Services program at the Pell City Fire Department training college.

Officials said students can obtain certification as a volunteer firefighter and eventually become full-fledged firefighters through the bridge program in about one year.

Parrish said the high school program builds character and mirrors that of the Pell City High School JROTC program.

Burdette said officials with the St. Clair County Board of Education appear interested in supporting the program for their students, and could participate in the vocational education program as early as next year.

Parrish said the fire department hopes to eventually have two daily sessions with up to 20 students in each of the morning and afternoon class sessions, or a total of 40 students involved in the training program.

“It’s a huge cost,” Parrish said. “The city went out on a limb to do this, to make a difference.”

Officials point out that more than 50 percent of Pell City school system students live outside the city.

School officials said Tuesday that half of the students currently enrolled in the fire and emergency services course taught by the Pell City Fire Department live within the city, while the other half live outside the city but in the Pell City School District.

Parrish said he hopes the Pell City Board of Education, the St. Clair County Board of Education and the St. Clair County Commission will contribute $10,000 apiece to get the program up and running. The Pell City Council will contribute the rest of the funds to get the program started.

In other matters Tuesday, the commission:

O Approved contributing $2,000 toward clearing property in front of the new Pell City Board of Education Central Office.

O Approved paying an invoice from Allen Services in the amount of $524 for repairs to the air conditioner in the jail.

O Approved paying an invoice from Southern Pipe & Supply of $186.75 for a sump pump for the Pell City Jail.

O Approved funding a one-time increase for Health Care Authority retirees in the amount of $13,182.

O Approved the lowest responsible bidder to install bleachers at the St. Clair County Arena for $45,225.

Contact David Atchison at datchison@dailyhome.com.