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New Sherman fire equipment to come from COVID funds

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat
The city of Sherman plans to invest $507,000 of its COVID-19 relief funding on new gear for Sherman Fire-Rescue.

Sherman Fire-Rescue may soon get new backup sets of fire protection gear at no cost to the city.

These purchases will be funded through reimbursement by the Texas Department of Emergency Management and the Coronavirus Relief Fund. In early June, the city accepted about $2.4 million in funding from TDEM to help offset its Coronavirus response.

The Sherman City Council recently approved the purchase of nearly $507,000 of new firefighting gear and personal equipment that will allow firefighters to switch out upon possible contamination from the Coronavirus.

"The city is always looking for ways for ways to defray our expense to the Coronavirus response," Sherman Community and Support Services Manager Nate Strauch said. "We know that there is a big pot of money that we are entitled to, and we want to do our due diligence to ensure that we get as much of that money as we can to offset our COVID-19 response."

Despite having access to these funds, city officials said the city likely will not be able to utilize all these funds as the city's response and expenses have been limited. Any funds that are not used by the end of the year will be returned.

This has led city officials to get inventive in how they look at expenses what  could be considered a part of the city's COVID-19 response.

"The city got a big pot of money for Coronavirus response, a big portion of which we cannot touch because we do not have the receipts to add up to that amount," Strauch said. "This is a creative way of looking at that put of money to see what unfunded items could be paid for using these Coronavirus relief funds."

This in turn led officials to look at the fire department, which has been one on the frontline for the city's COVID-19 response.

Initially, the department was primarily involved directly with cases involving the virus, but as the pandemic has gone on, the disease has begun to affect all aspects of the department's work.

"At that particular time, the Coronavirus was primarily a medical thing, and what I mean by that is that a majority of our calls to  houses were related to the Coronavirus and transporting people to the hospital," Fire Chief Danny Jones said, referring to early summer. "It has evolved and we have seen spikes, as you are all aware. It has grown beyond the chance of being exposed in people's house, nursing homes and so forth."

Now, firefighters and first responders run the risk of being exposed at wreck scenes, among other points of exposure.

Under Monday's action, the department will now purchase 100 sets of structural firefighting bunker gear, non-structural bunker gear and structural hoods and 121 sets of leather boots. This will give members of the department a second set that can be used if they need to clean and launder their primary set following potential exposure.

Jones said this will potentially save the department and city money down the road when they need to replace the current set.

With this  expense, the city is poised to use about $1.4 million of its CFR funding by year's end. However, Sherman Finance Director Mary Lawrence said it is likely that the deadline will be pushed back.

"You can look around and the virus is more than it ever was," she said. "It is hard to imagine that it won't be extended, but nobody knows and we can only speculate right now."

Under current regulations, the city could allocate up to 25 percent of its allocation to economic support for local residents, but Lawrence said the city did not use much funding this way and instead used other sources for that relief.