Columbia officials hoped to use the proceeds of a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) to rebuild the Columbia Fire/Rescue Department century-old facility severely damaged during Hurricane Michael and declared unsafe.

However, they were told the town doesn’t have enough low-income residents to qualify. Now officials are turning to residents to help raise $300,000 for the repairs.

“We need a fire/rescue department,” Mayor Rhonda Freeman said. “We were told our lower income ratio was not enough (to qualify for CDBG). Well, we may not have enough low income families to qualify, but our fire and rescue department serves everyone living in Columbia, plus the other departments we assist and other areas we provide rescue services too.”

Freeman is surprised the town did not be meet income requirements.

“I was told the only way we might have a chance of qualifying is if the town itself conducted an additional survey requesting every households’ income,” Freeman said. “No one is going to give that information to someone going door-to-door. So now we are turning to the community for support.”

The Columbia Fire/Rescue Department is staffed by paid employees who are required to stay at the station.

“Right now we have fire and rescue employees staying inside a small room at the police department, and we also have fire and rescue employees who are sleeping on council tables so they can respond to an emergency call. Now, if that does not show dedication, I don’t know what does.

“However, these employees need somewhere safe to serve the community, and rest.”

Freeman said a camper was purchased to provide a place for firefighters and EMTs to cook meals.

With the fire/rescue department being deemed unsafe parking for emergency vehicles is very limited.

“At this point, a majority of our emergency vehicles are being kept outside in the weather,” Freeman said. “This is not only needed equipment, but it is expensive equipment that is being kept in the weather. We have got to find a way to rebuild our fire and rescue department.”

Although Freeman is worried about the fire/rescue employees, her main focus is providing the best and quickest emergency services to the residents of Columbia.

“With our fire/rescue department being spaced out between the police department and the town hall, our response time is being affected. An increase in response time for a house fire, automobile accident, or a health issue can mean the difference between life and death. Our concern is serving the people to the best of our ability.”

The CDBG funds would have provided $300,000 to assist with rebuilding the fire/rescue department.

“We are trying to raise the $300,000 as quickly as we can,” Freeman said. “This is not a want, this is a need for our community, and we are turning to the community and surrounding areas for support.”

Anyone wishing to make a donation to the Town of Columbia for the rebuilding of its fire/rescue department may do so by mailing a donation to the Town of Columbia, P.O. Box 339, Columbia, AL 36319. All donations need to be labeled for Columbia Fire/Rescue Department building.

“My goal as mayor has always been serve the people,” Freeman said. “Believe me, this is a need for the people and for our emergency personnel.”

For more information on the Columbia Fire/Rescue Department, call 334-696-4417.

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