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Grant to help firefighters get dressed for wildland fire success
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Andy Claxton, a forester with Plum Creek Timber Company, presents a $9,020 grant to Effingham County Fire Rescue Chief Val Ashcraft. The funds from the Plum Creek Foundation will purchase lightweight protective gear to be used in fighting woods fires. Also pictured are Plum Creek forester Rob Hicks and Effingham County Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Jack Burnsed. - photo by Photo by Paul Floeckher

Effingham County Fire Rescue is well-equipped to fight structure fires at homes and businesses.

Soon, the department will be outfitted to battle woods fires more effectively.

Effingham Fire Rescue has received a $9,020 grant from the Plum Creek Foundation to purchase wildland firefighting protective gear.

"Our protective gear for fighting fires around buildings is totally unsuitable for walking into the woodline when there’s a woods fire," said Chief Val Ashcraft.

Whereas firefighters spend a relatively short time inside a building fire, they can be out in the field for a considerably longer duration fighting a woods fire, Ashcraft said. That, combined with the climate conditions, particularly in the heat of summer, necessitates lighter clothing than the firefighters’ usual heavy, layered turnout gear.

"More or less, what we’re looking to get is street clothes that are lightweight and made out of materials that are fire-resistant," Ashcraft said.

Ashcraft estimated that the grant will fund wildland firefighting shirts, pants, boots and helmets for nine firefighters. Following a bid process, he expects the department to receive the gear in about 60 days.

For a large wildfire, the Georgia Forestry Commission is the primary firefighting agency. A department such as Effingham County Fire Rescue offers assistance by building defensive lines or managing fire breaks, to protect the nearby buildings.

Ashcraft said that roughly 20 percent of Effingham County Fire Rescue’s calls each year are for "brush-fire, forestry-type fires." In addition, the department assists other agencies in emergencies, such as last year’s major wildfires in south Georgia that caused evacuations in Clinch, Coffee, Long and Ware counties.

"We had crews down there for weeks. We have significant fires here too — not every year, but we’ve had declared disasters with wildfires here and whatever we need to do to be safe there, we need to do here as well," Ashcraft said. "You don’t know what you have (at a fire scene) until you get there, so you have to prepare for the worst."

The grant was given by the Plum Creek Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Plum Creek Timber Company. The foundation awards grants each year to non-profit organizations and agencies in communities where Plum Creek operates.

"This fits the bill just right," said Rob Hicks, a forester with Plum Creek Timber Company. "This will go toward outfitting these firefighters so that they’ll be safe out in the woods. As a timber company, we want to support something like that."

The grant proposal was written by Lt. Hannah Jenkins. It is the second grant Jenkins has secured for Effingham County Fire Rescue, which earlier this year received two thermal imaging cameras from the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation.