Horry County fire department gets grant to help recruit and retain volunteers

It's about to get a whole lot easier for Horry County firefighters to train and build their volunteer base. Horry County Fire Rescue is receiving a nearly one million dollar federal grant to go towards its volunteers.

The grant will go towards the cost of volunteers' gear and maintenance as well as physicals.

One of those volunteers is Richie La Pera, who's been volunteering in Horry County for 8 years. If you ask him why he volunteers as a firefighter, he'll tell you this: "I just think it's a great thing, I thInk being able to help people in their time of need, it's a fantastic thing."

La Pera is a career firefighter in Myrtle Beach and one of more than 360 in the Horry County fire volunteer program.

"It pays for about 25 firemen a year to be completed outfitted and pays for their physicals so we can get them on the books," Battalion Chief Brian VanAernem explained.

VanAernem added that the physicals paid for by the grant can cost up to $300 per person.

"Gear for firefighters is not cheap. You're talking $1800 for just a set of turnout gear. You're talking about very expensive physicals, you're talking about radios, equipment, everything in the fire department is not cheap," La Pera said.

More volunteers also means faster response times, something residents in areas starved for.

"I think it's great for the community and these guys really deserve some funds like this," Horry County resident Kristy Pack explained, "I have three kids at home so absolutely, it gives me peace of mind."

Horry County Fire Rescue brings on an average of 50 new volunteers a year.