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Special funding improves Cleburne County fire departments

HEFLIN Thanks to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, Cleburne County has been able to buy its first responders new gear, improve public health and make other infrastructure improvements.

According to Kim Brown, Cleburne County administrator, the county’s share of the $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill signed into law last March was $550,000.

In addition to the half-million dollar influx of federal dollars, the county also received $43,000 to house state inmates at the Cleburne County Jail. 

Signed into law in March 2020, the CARES Act was a 2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill intended to mitigate the economic fallout from the pandemic. According to Brown, a major portion of Cleburne County’s sliver of funds went toward safety and protection of the 12 volunteer fire departments scattered across the county, “to take care of our first responders, the volunteer fire departments.”

Brown said all the fire departments in the county that did not already have extractors  — which was about half — were able to get one. An extractor is a commercial-grade washing machine specifically designed for the cleaning of firefighting equipment.

Brown said that guidance from the government on how to disinfect firefighting PPE after exposure to COVID-19 had been issued by FEMA but many of the fire departments did not have the necessary equipment needed to follow those recommendations. 

Also bought with the CARES funds were breathing air compressors, devices that allow firefighters to refill air bottles they need in certain firefighting and hazardous conditions. 

“Those were so pricey that we could not get every single department one, we were able to get one for each district,” said Brown.

One of those air compressors was purchased for the Turkey Heaven Volunteer Fire Department.

Fire Chief Patrick Nolen said the air compressor had been on the fire department’s wish list for years.

“It meant a lot to us for one, it gave us a system that we were able to fill our bottles and used to we had to go to Ranburne or Heflin fire department to fill those bottles,” said Nolen.

Nolen said a UV light system has been added to the bottle-filling apparatus to kill any viruses, including COVID, and he said the extractor washing system has helped because the fire department responds to medical calls where COVID may have been present. 

“We were able to come back to the department and completely decontaminate ourselves as well as wash our protective gear in that extractor,” Nolen said.

Nolen said the air compressor was a “puzzle piece” the department had been trying to get for years.

According to Nolen the department has applied for multiple grants over the years without success.

“It was a huge, huge asset added to our department and our community,” said Nolen. 

Other CARES Act purchases for the county include:

— A new manual lift device for the county morgue. Due to the height of the morgue units only a small portion of the morgue was able to be used.

— An extractor and dryer for the county jail, on account of the increased laundering of bedding and prisoner clothes. Air duct units were also purchased to inactivate COVID-19 at the jail.

— Hands-free faucets for public restrooms in county buildings and each entry and exit door has been equipped with a hands-free sanitizing station. A full-time custodian was hired for additional cleaning of county buildings.

— A public address system for the county commission, given that meetings are held in a larger room at the Mountain Center.

— The donation of a printer to the Lucile Morgan Public Library for virtual students to use as needed. A laptop was donated to the library’s bookmobile for virtual students to use. Tables, chairs, computers and a printer were donated to the City of Heflin to be set up at the Community Arts building for remote students.

— A computer, by the town of Ranburne, for remote students; computers have been allocated to Cleburne County District 1.

— Mapping software for Cleburne County E911 call center.

— A new phone system for county offices at the Mountain Center as the old one was beginning to fail with the abundance of calls in relation to the pandemic.

— Protective equipment as well as sanitizing and disinfecting supply for first responders, supplied by Cleburne County emergency manager Crystal Cavender. 

​Staff writer Bill Wilson: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @bwilson_star.