MOULTRIE -- Extra effort in paper shuffling continues to pay off for Colquitt County.

More than $100,000 of federal money is being pumped into local volunteer fire departments (VFDs) by way of grants. Since 2002, departments of the Colquitt County Volunteer Fire Association (VFA) have amassed more than $800,000 in grants.

Culbertson VFD recently got a $38,565 grant as part of the Department of Homeland Security 2004 Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program (AFGP).

U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., announced Culbertson's windfall this week.

"Firefighters perform a selfless public service to their communities," Chambliss said. "I am pleased that the Culbertson Volunteer Fire Department will now have these additional funds to help train and equip first responders."

This year, the Department of Homeland Security received more than 20,000 applications for AFGP grants submitted; of those, 430 were submitted for the $750 million Fire Prevention Program.

Culbertson VFD Chief Darrell Truett said the grant will allow the department to purchase an air machine to refill personal apparatus and personal alert safety system (PASS) devices that track the whereabouts of firefighters in low visibility conditions. The VFD also recently purchased a used pumper truck.

Culbertson used a grant last year to buy new turnout gear -- the fireproof clothing, boots and helmet that firefighters wear when fighting a fire. The year prior, the governor's office gave the department money to build a training room for Culbertson's 25 firefighters.

"It puts us a lot further ahead, and then the money we get from the county we can use for other things," Truett said.

Some counties, such as Thomas and Brooks, don't even apply for federal grants, VFA President Billy Glass said.

"Between Homeland Security and this Fire Act grant, Colquitt County has been very, very blessed," Glass said. "When you get $50,000 into a fire department at one time, it's like Christmas over and over, because $50,000 can buy you things to get you into a position as far as equipment to be as good as the best."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) granted Norman Park VFD a matching grant of $52,000 for new turnout gear, breathing apparatus, spare air bottles and PASS devices.

This is the first FEMA grant Norman Park has received. The last time Norman Park got a grant was several years ago from the state, Chief Ken Weaver said.

As a condition, the department must match 10 percent of the total grant.

Norman Park's 15 volunteers serve the city and the area within a five-mile radius of it, plus serve as a backup unit for six other departments, including ones in Tift and Worth counties. That area is one of the fastest growing in the county.

New Elm VFD got more than $45,000 to upgrade gear on the trucks and for its 12 volunteers. In addition to its territory in Colquitt County, New Elm provides backup aide for Worth County, said Seth Brady, chief of the 3-year-old department.

"For all of us newer departments, it's really good," Brady said.

Other county departments, including Rockyford (another new department) and Northside, also have grant money coming in, Glass said, although details aren't available yet. The volunteer firefighters association has applied for another grant for public education to continue the effort funded this year, he said.

With all the new funding coming in, Glass expects to finalize the county's application for an improved insurance rating within the next two months. Improved ratings translate into savings to homeowners in property insurance premiums.

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