Letcher County fire departments will get more than $60,000 from the American Electric Power Foundation to buy new turnout gear for firefighters.
The money will buy 40 sets of fire-resistant coats and pants for the 10 volunteer fire departments in the county, Letcher, Colson, Sandlick, Whitesburg, Mayking, Neon, Jenkins, Cumberland River, Kingscreek and Gordon. Each department will get four sets of bunker gear, and will spend an additional $2,035 each for gloves, Nomex hoods, helmets and boots. Each set of pants and coats cost about $1,400 each, Sandlick Fire Captain Charles Polly said.
The grant totals $61,160, and is from a nonprofit foundation formed by AEP rather than from Kentucky Power or AEP itself. Sandlick Volunteer Fire Department, which is organized as a 501c(3) nonprofit organization, will accept the money on behalf of the other departments and disperse it to them.
Sandlick Fire Chief Mike Amburgey said the suits have a 10- year expiration date, but they don’t always last that long.
“If you get into meth or other contaminants, you have to get rid of it,” he said, adding that he has been hospitalized two to three times because of inhaling chemical fumes thought to have come from meth inside burning buildings. “One meth fire could cost of $10,000 to $20,000.”
Kingscreek Fire Chief Bill Meade said his department’s turnout gear is already past its expiration date, so it has to be replaced. He showed a label on one of the department’s jackets.
“It was made in ’05, and this our new stuff,” he said.
Greg Sparkman, district manager of Kentucky Power in Hazard, said Judge/Executive Terry Adams had contacted him about the grant, and the AEP foundation awarded it based on the need to protect firefighters.
“We work diligently every day on safety” within the company, Sparkman said. “This goes beyond finances. This is a safety issue.”
Adams said thanked the foundation for the grant, which he said was much needed.
“This grant will replace some of the old, worn out turnout gear with brand new, state-of-the-art gear for every fire department in Letcher County,” he said. “This will allow our county firefighters to remain better protected from cancer-causing agents, while they better protect the citizens of Letcher County.”