(TNS) - More than $100,000 in grant funds are going to local volunteer fire departments in Cleveland County.
Mike Causey, North Carolina State Insurance Commissioner and Fire Marshal, handed out $117,000 in grant money for Bethlehem, Lawndale, Casar, Shanghai and Fallston volunteer fire departments on Monday. The funding will go to purchase much-needed equipment at the departments.
"This funding is a necessity," Causey said. "Because of COVID the departments haven't been able to host fundraisers they normally would."
The funds Cleveland County departments received are part of $8.5 million matching grants given to more than 500 volunteer fire departments statewide. Causey stopped by insurance agencies and fire stations during a trip to Rutherford, Polk and Cleveland counties on Monday - including the Bethlehem Volunteer Fire Department.
Lee Echols, the training chief of Bethlehem Volunteer Fire Department, showed off one of the department's thermal imaging cameras that was bought with the grant and matching funds raised by the department.
Echols is grateful for the funds that allowed for this new equipment. Perry Davis, director for Cleveland County Emergency Management, echoed the firefighter's appreciation for the money.
"This will be able to go toward anything from turnout gear to equipment," Davis said.
Causey spoke to firefighters and local officials about the challenges volunteer departments are facing not only during COVID-19 but what they see may become problems in the future. One of the biggest obstacles is keeping people on the roster.
"All volunteer fire departments in the state are struggling with recruitment and retention of volunteers," Causey said.
Causey and his team are working with departments around the state to work on this issue. He is also looking at different ways to keep funds coming to the departments.
"If it was not for these matching grants, the departments would not be there today," said Cleveland County Commissioner Johnny Hutchins.
Joyce Orlando can be reached at 704-669-3341 or find her on Twitter @Star_J_Orlando.
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