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Falkville fire gear costs disputed
Former chief, grant writer question need for $40,000 matching grant

By Ronnie Thomas 340-2438

FALKVILLE — Terry Lambert, the former fire chief of the Falkville Volunteer Fire Department, takes exception with the $40,000 the department says it needs for a matching grant.

Fire Chief Eric Sawyer released that figure Thursday after U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, said the department would receive a $109,459 grant from the Department of Homeland Security.

Also, Terry Acuff of Community Consultants Inc. of Huntsville, who wrote and submitted the grant on behalf of the department, said the 5 percent match would be only $5,761.

"That's because the entire project cost was $115,220," he said. "I don't understand about the $40,000."

Miscalculation claimed

Sawyer said the department needs the additional money "because the previous (department) administration did not calculate the costs correctly."

Not so fast, says Lambert, who served as fire chief from Jan. 1, 2000, to July 31, 2006. Lambert said he chose not to stand for re-election and left the department to spend more time with his family. The firefighters elect their chief.

Lambert said he, Assistant Fire Chief Lance Stidham and Capt. Mike Butler went through catalogs such as Chief Supply Corp. and Darley Municipal Supplies to get the quotes and "to write everything down."

Lambert said he spoke with Chris Free "a time or two" about the quotes. Free, Falkville's police chief, also is a Fire Department captain and an emergency medical technician.

"One thing in particular, Eric said he couldn't find a compressor for less than $35,000. I gave Chris the Darley book that quoted a compressor in the $18,000 to $19,000 range, which was part of the money I asked for," Lambert said.

Lambert also said of the quotes that "you're not comparing apples to apples." He said, for example the much lower quote he gave on the compressor compared to Sawyer's quote that almost doubled the price "is the difference between a Ranger and a Hummer."

Lambert concluded, "The lower prices are there. He's going to have to look for them."

Acuff said his company applied for the grant three different times, beginning in 2003.

"At the time we did the first one, when the funding was at 90 percent, the Federal Emergency Management Agency was concerned that fire departments were submitting shopping lists," Acuff said.

"Basically, after we write grants and we get a rejection letter, we wonder why."

Acuff said that first year Falkville asked for $140,000. He said he felt that FEMA might question such a large amount from a small department, so in 2004 he and Lambert got together and submitted a grant for $120,000.

Acuff said that in working on the 2005 grant, the grant that FEMA funded, he told Lambert to "make sure this is what you need."

FEMA guidelines

Acuff said to improve a department's chances of getting funds, he attends FEMA workshops where officials give guidelines on eliminating unnecessary requests.

"They get 22,000 requests each year from across the country, and they fund only about 7,000," he said. "(Terry) Lambert and I marked off several items from 2004 to give us the best shot of getting funded."

Acuff on Friday made calls to suppliers to get an idea on the specified items listed on the most recent grant to "see if everything would fall within the budget. Some items were a couple hundred dollars over, some a couple hundred under.

"Even on the air filling station. You can get one for $19,353, and if you want a Cadillac, pay for it. But FEMA isn't," he said.

Acuff said that based on estimates, Falkville's request for 13 sets of turnout gear would cost $1,300 each, for a total of $16,900. He said 13 air packs would run $2,500 each for a cost of $32,500, or a total of $49,400 for personal protective equipment.

"Add $64,920 for fire fighting equipment, including fire hoses and extricating equipment, and our $900 fee and you get $115,220," Acuff said. "FEMA reimburses $855 of the fee. Forty-thousand dollars is not required."

Acuff said Falkville needs to "competitively bid out what they're asking for and see how the prices fall out. I usually don't do the bidding, but we will on this one, just to make sure they get what we included on the application."

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