TUPELO • The Tupelo Fire Department now has a new piece of equipment that will help them during search and rescue missions, thanks in part to a local restaurant.

TFD was able to purchase a utility task vehicle, a trailer and accessories, thanks to a $19,461 grant from the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation.

“This will give us the ability to transport people and equipment into places where we can’t take the (fire truck),” said Deputy Fire Chief Jimmy Avery. “It already has a winch on the front. We’ll add another one to the back and add (flashing) lights.

“This is going to be a huge help during search and rescue.”

Avery said the UTV would have been a huge help in June 2017 when authorities were searching for the remains of four people whose SUV crashed into Town Creek. Officials had to carry an inflatable rescue boat, the motor and equipment across fields in order to reach the waterway.

Since starting the grant program in 2005, the foundation has issued more than $37.7 million for life-saving equipment and educational opportunities to first responders. Of that figure, more than $300,000 has gone to Mississippi agencies.

“This is the fourth grant we’ve been able to make in the northeast Mississippi area,” said Firehouse Subs area representative Jim Maxwell. “We’ve made them in Starkville, West Point and Tupelo for things like jaws of life and a rescue boat.

“We are very proud to help and feel strongly the need to support the people who protect us.”

Public safety groups submit grant applications each quarter to the Firehouse Foundation, Maxwell said the grants range from $2,000 all the way up to $50,000. He described the Tupelo award of $19,000 a “normal size grant.”

Tupelo restaurant owner Chris Stephenson said he was looking at several companies when deciding what kind of franchise to invest his money. He said the grant program swayed him.

“The way they give back and help the community sealed the deal for me,” Stephenson said. “After getting it going, I went to Station 1 to introduce myself to the chief and tell him about the company. When I walked into his office, the first thing I saw was a pickle bucket with our logo on it.”

The original funding for the grant program came from selling the empty five-gallon pickle buckets from the restaurants for $2 each. They then added donation bucket on the counter. The newest option is asking customers if they want to round up their bill to the next even dollar amount. The extra change is applied to the grants.

The corporate headquarters adds at least $1 million to the foundation each year.

william.moore@journalinc.com Twitter:@WilliamMoore_DJ

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