Emergency services will benefit
from CARES funds
By Robert Stevens
The Sanpete County Commission is appropriating CARES funds to all the fire departments and ambulances associations in the county so they can upgrade their equipment.
Sanpete County Commission Chair Scott Bartholomew, who is the commissioner over emergency services, says the county has been working on the funding project over the last month.
The county has received or expects to receive about $3 million in federal funds through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, the huge stimulus bill passed by Congress and signed by President Trump in March.
Bartholomew says the volunteer fire departments in Sanpete County are each getting funds for new self-contained breathing apparatus units (SCBAs) and the four ambulance associations should each get a new ambulance.
The SBCAs, which enable firefighters to breathe when they enter burning buildings, have a limited shelf life. Many SCBAs in fire stations around the county have expired. And ambulance associations always face a struggle to come up with funds for the latest ambulances.
Combined, the county is appropriating more than $1 million of its CARES relief funds towards improving local emergency services.
“This has been a need for some time,” says Bartholomew. “These two deals benefit the entire county.”
Bartholomew says the county did all the legwork to make sure the equipment purchases fit the guidelines for CARES Act relief to local governments. The state is coordinating the CARES program in Utah. And Bartholomew says everything the county is doing has been approved by the state in advance of purchase. All purchases were done through competitive bid processes.
“We met with some other counties and found out how they had been spending their CARES money, and we’ve decided to use some of ours to help with this equipment,” he says. “Everyone is overwhelmingly in favor of it. It’s very hard for them to afford this stuff on their own, and that has always been a problem.”
At least eight new breathing apparatus units for the fire departments are being funded by the county. Normally, they would cost about $8,500, says Bartholomew, but by purchasing in bulk they were able to get them for approximately $6,800 each. In addition, the manufacturer included an extra air tank with each breathing apparatus at no extra charge.
A few fire departments have chosen to take advantage of the bulk discount negotiated by the county and purchasing extra SBCAs with their own funds.
Sanpete County Fire Warden Tom Peterson says this upgrade to the local fire departments is a big deal. The pandemic has complicated things for fire departments that must share equipment while fighting fires.
The purchase of SCBAs means if a firefighter comes down with COVID, his department has the flexibility to temporarily retire the individual’s equipment for proper sanitization and still have backup units.
“I think this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and probably one of the best chances we’ve got to protect our first responders by giving them the equipment they need to do their job safely,” Peterson says.
Ambulance associations in North Sanpete, Ephraim, Manti and the Gunnison Valley are each getting approximately $280,000 of the COVID relief money to pay the majority of the cost for a new ambulance.
Earlier this year, ambulance association representatives from Ephraim and North Sanpete reported the coronavirus crisis had stretched their resources thin. Their volunteers were making repeated trips in full protective gear to take people who had COVID-19 to Utah County and Salt Lake County hospitals.
With the addition of a new ambulance, the four associations will be able to operate two ambulances—one for COVID patients and one for everything else.
The equipment purchases weren’t 100 percent gifts from the county. Bartholomew says the deal required the sponsor of each fire department and ambulance association to match 10 percent of the cost.
“We wanted everybody to have a little skin in the game,” he told the Messenger.
Bartholomew says making it all come together has been a team effort between himself, Sanpete County Fire Warden Tom Peterson, Sterling Town Fire Chief Nick Lyons and Gunnison Valley Fire Chief Jed Hansen.
There was a “lot of legwork” required to make it all happen, and “everyone involved was instrumental,” he said.