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.