A combination of record drought, epic wildfires, hard economic times and slashed state funding has put added stress on volunteer fire departments in Texas.
Chris Barron, executive director of the State Firemen’s and Fire Marshals’ Association of Texas, told the Killeen Daily Herald for a story in Sunday’s edition that 77 percent of the fire service in the state comes from volunteer departments.
Meanwhile, the state cut its annual volunteer fire department grants last year from $25 million to $7 million, Barron told the newspaper.
“Monetarily, in general, the state fire services are underfunded,” he said.
While $7 million may sound like a large amount, it isn’t when you spread it across more than 1,400 volunteer departments, Barron said.
Some counties offer funding to their volunteer departments. Coryell County, where part of Fort Hood is situated in Central Texas, dedicated $308,000 of its property tax revenue in its 2010-11 budget to 11 fire departments, with only one having a paid force.
But overall, volunteer departments are left to raise funds on their own.
The Southwest Bell County and Kempner volunteer departments, which serve the northern end of the Texas Hill Country near Killeen, raise money together through an annual barbecue and auction. The Southwest Bell County department also holds charitable bingo games.
Even so, local funding is often insufficient, and about 86 percent of volunteer firefighters use money from their own pockets to fuel their trucks or buy equipment, Barron said.
Fire bunker gear, the protective outerwear of firefighters, costs several thousand dollars, he said. A new truck designed to fight wildfires off-road in the brush can cost a minimum of $60,000, he said.
Volunteer departments say they’re doing the best they can with the resources at hand.
“We are not going to let that interfere with going to calls at all,” Lampasas Volunteer Fire Department President Danny Hail said of the budget constraints. “If there is a fire or a wreck, we are going to it one way or the other.”
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