HUNTINGTON — As another fire-hazard abandoned home was torn down in West Huntington on Thursday, other developments were taking place so that some of the city’s firefighters could soon find themselves sleeping better on mattresses donated by AT&T.
The donations were part of the company’s Believe Appalachia initiative, a campaign focused on helping first responders combat the opioid epidemic in the Appalachian region. Its current focus is on Huntington.
Engineer Joshua Blake, a 12-year veteran of the Huntington Fire Department, was thrilled for the new bed donations and said AT&T is now two-for-two at keeping promises. Some of the current HFD beds are older than his career, he said.
“The ones we have, somebody different is sleeping in it every night,” he said. “We have nine guys rotating into the same bed with different sizes, different sleeping habits and different things. Those things get rough after a while.”
Believe Appalachia was announced in October with the demolition of a Bruce Street home and announcement of the monetary donations. AT&T employees painted Huntington Fire Station No. 10 on Saltwell Road the same day.
Phase two started Thursday with the announcement of AT&T’s donation of $2,000 to go toward up to six new mattresses.
The mattresses will be specifically designed for first responders, who often experience sleep problems.
Also part of phase two was Thursday’s demolition of a home in the 500 block of Evans Street in West Huntington. After Thursday’s news conference, AT&T employees gave Centennial Station a fresh coat of paint.
Andy Feeney, AT&T regional vice president of external affairs, said the idea for the new mattresses came while AT&T employees painted fire station No. 10 in October and saw the poor condition of the mattresses.
Huntington Mayor Steve Williams applauded the company’s ongoing commitment.
“The fact that AT&T is stepping forward says everything about our community,” he said. “We don’t like talking about the opioid crisis, but if there’s one thing we can depend on, it’s each other.”
AT&T is not alone, however.
Madison Lowry, land use associate for Network Building and Consulting — a Richmond, Virginia-based company — announced Thursday that the company would also chip in to help pay for new mattresses for first responders.
Lowry did not have a number Thursday of how much money the company planned to donate, stating it was still working with fire officials to weigh their needs with what the company could donate.
Huntington Fire Chief Jan Rader said the firefighter leaders are testing out mattresses to find the best one for the men.
“It’s hard for me to express the gratitude that I have for you all, for doing what you are doing for us,” she told the AT&T employees. “But I tell ya, it’s going to catch on.”
Blake said the comfort of the mattresses would save firefighters hours of rolling around to get comfortable and give them more deep-sleep time.
“If you’re not getting the rest you need, your brain is not thinking correctly and you’re not doing what you need to be doing,” he said.
As part of its Believe Appalachia initiative, AT&T will partake in eight community action projects, with a focus on giving back to Huntington’s police officers and firefighters. The two biggest contributions included a $24,000 donation to go toward tearing down three abandoned houses in the city and a $20,000 donation for the city’s first responders’ Compass Wellness Center.
The company also will give first responders a family movie night, collect thank-you cards from the community for the first responders and provide hot meals during the holidays. The company also will team up with Habitat For Humanity to build a home for a veteran and recently sponsored an opioid summit at Marshall University to discuss solutions for the city.
Follow reporter Courtney Hessler at Facebook.com/CHesslerHD and via Twitter @HesslerHD.