McNeil Rural fire chief requests portion of County’s COVID relief funds for new air equipment : KZHE News Blog
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McNeil Rural fire chief requests portion of County’s COVID relief funds for new air equipment

by J.D. Bailey on 12/07/21

A volunteer fire chief in Columbia County is asking for a bit financial of help from the county government for his department and others like it around in the area.

Jake Price, the chief of McNeil’s Rural Fire Department, on Monday spoke before the Columbia County Quorum Court in an attempt to persuade the local governing body to use a portion of its federal COVID relief funds to help purchase new equipment at fire departments around the county. The fire official cited a recent move by the Washington County officials, which allotted $5 million in American Rescue Plan relief funds, to purchase new air packs at all fire departments in the heavily-populated county.

Price noted that he knew the amount of American Rescue Plan aid was different between Washington County and Columbia County, but he wished to bring the issue before the Quorum Court out of need.

“If you don’t know what our finances are like, we struggle -- just as everyone else,” he said.

Washington County is located in northwest Arkansas, with Fayetteville serving as the county seat. The population of Washington County is approximately 245,000 residents, according to the 2020 U.S. Census. The county government there, according to the U.S. Treasury, is set to receive almost $46 million in COVID relief aid by May 2022.

By comparison, Columbia County has a population of just over 23,000 residents and will receive a total of $4.5 million in federal virus relief dollars.

Columbia County has a total of 16 fire and volunteer fire departments, according to Price. That figure includes Magnolia Fire Department, which is fully staffed and serves as the largest and most well-funded department in the county.

The McNeil Fire Chief noted that his agency runs on around $10,000 per year. Its budget is funded mostly through membership dues and a $5,000 county grant issued every year for new turnout gear. Specifically, Price needs new compressed-air breathing equipment for firefighters throughout the county.

“I believe every new fire department is in need of new air packs,” he added.

Columbia County has appropriated at least $1.7 million of its expected $4.5 million in federal COVID relief aid so far. In October, it offered $1.5 million in premium pay to county workers who were employed during the initial phase of the coronavirus pandemic, and on Monday, it appropriated $174,000 for a new body scanning machine at the Columbia County Detention Center to help detect COVID symptoms for inmates.

According to Price, a firefighter air pack and a new compressed air bottle costs around $9,000 for each set.

“Some of our packs are around 25 years old,” Price said.

The McNeil Rural Fire Chief on Monday requested at least four new air packs for each fire department in the county. When adding in the cost for all 16 local fire agencies, the price of the project would total around $576,000.

Price did note, however, that he would be happy with any amount of help he could get.

“I’d even take just one,” he said.

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