For 1st time, paid Teays Valley firefighters staff station 24/7
TEAYS VALLEY, W.Va. -- As soon as the alert sounded Wednesday, firefighters Jarrod Summers and Joey Puterbaugh grabbed their gear, which was spread out on the front of a fire truck.
Moments later, the call was confirmed as a false alarm, but the important thing, Summers and Puterbaugh said, was that they were ready.
"Before, volunteers would be called and no one knew who would respond -- and there have been occasions when nobody came," said Keith Gwinn of the Teays Valley Volunteer Fire Department. "Now, we always know we have at least two [firefighters] here as soon as a call comes."
Last week, for the first time, the Teays Valley department started paying firefighters. The money to pay them came from a federal grant, after a two-year battle to raise Putnam County's fire fee for the first time in 20 years didn't result in enough of an increase to hire paid firefighters.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, through a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grant, awarded the Teays Valley fire department $459,906 at the end of 2012. That will allow the department to pay 18 part-time firefighters for two years.
Teays Valley is the first fire department to pay firefighters in Putnam, besides two hired by the city of Hurricane. "But they only work Monday through Friday, 8 to 5," Summers said.
The Teays Valley fire district includes Teays Valley, Scott Depot, Teays, Bills Creek and parts of St. Albans -- it's the largest station in the county.
"A lot of people don't realize what we do until they need us," Summers said. "This should make people feel safer."
So far, the department has hired eight firefighters and is looking for 10 more. About four of those hired already were volunteers at the Teays Valley station.
"Chiefs of stations have applied for the part-time positions, a captain in St. Albans, a lieutenant in Charleston," Summers said. "There's a lot of experience out there."
"Mostly all of the 474 departments in the state are all volunteer," Gwinn added.
Eighty-seven percent of the state is protected by volunteer fire departments, according to the state Fire Marshal's Office.
The grant money will allow the firefighters to be paid about $12.60 an hour. If the department hires a veteran, like Summers, the grant will automatically pay for his third year. Also, Gwinn said, the department plans to reapply for the grant.
"It's something any station can apply for," he said. "We got asked that in a [county fire] board meeting: 'Well, how did you all get this?'"
While working 12-hour shifts, firefighters have been upgrading the station by remodeling the kitchen and bathroom. Beds, a pool table and a TV were donated from local businesses and community members.
"It's like our second home," Summers, 26, said. "We want it to be as nice as possible."
Puterbaugh, 19, who has volunteered at the station for about a year, has only weeks left before he becomes a certified emergency management technician -- a skill, Gwinn said, they hope more of their new firefighters have.
Last Wednesday, Puterbaugh was halfway through a 48-hour shift. "He volunteered for that," Summers quickly said with a laugh.
"It's a whole different experience, people always being here," Puterbaugh said. "Before, someone had to come from home and change when they got here.
"It's pretty neat. I never thought it would be like this."
Reach Kate White at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1723.