Maury County firefighters have risked their lives every day for 43 years for no pay, but federal money will now change all of that and a lot more.
"In the volunteer fire service, response time is always our biggest enemy," said Maury County Fire Capt. Richey Schatz. "Those are precious minutes we lose with having to respond from their home to come and get the fire trucks at the station."
It has been a tough job for firefighters to cover such a large area - all of the outskirts of Columbia, Spring Hill and Mount Pleasant - on their own time, but a $622,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security will change that.
"What it gets us is we are going to be able to hire six firefighters for two years at zero cost to the local taxpayers," Schatz said.
About 40,000 Maury County residents rely on 200 volunteers to answer radio calls in their own vehicles after working long days of two and three jobs.
Volunteer firefighter Jamey Baysinger has a full-time job running heavy equipment and spends time with his kids.
"It's tough to balance it all out - between your home life and this is what I love to do on the volunteer side of it - and then trying to hold down your full-time job. But you've just got to keep your priorities in check," Baysinger said.
Now, he stands to get a $37,000 salary out of the grant. Plus, the full-time firefighters will bunk at the station and have more time to maintain equipment, train recruits and work with residents.
"Along with this job will come the public education side of it - really rallying the public and getting them on board with us," Baysinger said.
Most importantly, response time will be cut by an estimated 10 minutes as the focus stays the same.
"It's the fire service. It's serving other people," Schatz said.
Fire departments in Fairview and Pigeon Forge, TN, also received the same grant. The Maury County Fire Department is not stopping there. They are still working on other grants for volunteer recruitment and new emergency responder trucks.
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