The McMinn County Commission has agreed to utilize COVID relief funds to better supply its rural firefighters.

At last Monday’s commission meeting, the board voted unanimously in favor of purchasing 100 breathing air

bottles to be distributed among the county’s 11 volunteer fire departments.

“The chief (McMinn County Fire Chief Scott Thompson) was telling me before the end of last year, ‘We’ve got a looming deadline coming with the air bottles — the bottles that go with the Scott air packs,” explained McMinn County Mayor John Gentry during a meeting of the Emergency Services Committee prior to the commission meeting.

“There’s a 15-year life on them and we’ve got 100 going out soon,” added Thompson.

The volunteer fire departments have nearly 100 air bottles nearing their end of life during the upcoming fiscal year. The useful life of these air bottles is determined by the National Fire Protection Act and U.S. Department of Transportation regulations. The majority of the bottles were originally purchased with grant funds.

Each of the 3M Scott Safety Carbon Bottles is valued at $841, which brings the total cost to $84,100 for 100 bottles. Prior to the full commission vote, the Emergency Services Committee unanimously recommended the purchase.

This action is in addition to the commission approving the purchase of new digital radios on Monday, which will be dispersed among the fire departments.

“I thought (new air bottles) would be another good use for that COVID money,” said Gentry. “If something happens to them at a fire and it’s anything with that bottle, it’s on us at that point if it’s out of compliance.”

Both purchases will be made with COVID relief funds either already received or set to be allocated.

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