By: Julie Montanaro | WCTV Eyewitness News
July 12, 2017
MONTICELLO, Fla. (WCTV) -- Firefighters in Monticello are the first in Florida to get money aimed at helping volunteer fire departments statewide.
It's a chance for those who fight fires for free to get updated equipment they could never afford, and it's a big deal for folks who live in small towns and rural counties.
A spokesman for CFO and State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis says about 12 million Floridians rely on volunteer fire departments for help.
Volunteers at the Monticello Volunteer Fire Department got a check Tuesday for just over $18,000. That's more than half their yearly budget.
They're using it to buy four new air packs, which firefighters strap on their backs when going into burning buildings.
The chief says the department usually has to rely on outdated hand-me-downs from other departments.
"This gear here really will help us out a lot, because it puts us a lot safer going in because you're breathing good clean air," Fire Chief Lester Lawrence said.
"This will give them a chance to get better training, better equipment," said Assistant Fire Chief Mike Long.
This year, nine departments are splitting $150,000. But next year, volunteer departments can apply for a share of one million dollars.
The Florida CFO's office is accepting applications for the Firefighter Grant Assistance Program right now for the 2017-2018 budget year.
State Representative Halsey Beshears of Monticello was one of the bill's sponsors.