Volunteer Fire Departments Lack Money and Volunteers

By: Meredith Stancik
By: Meredith Stancik

Will Maddux drives a truck for Brazos Valley Welding, but during his spare time you can find him at Brazos County's Precinct Four Fire Department.

"I've always wanted to be a volunteer fireman," Maddux said.

As a volunteer fireman, Will answers calls whenever he's in town, but he must clock out at work. That means no pay from his job and only four dollars per call from the fire department. However, Will says he's one of the lucky ones; his employer appreciates what he does.

"I can see what he does, it’s a good thing," Brazos Valley Welding's Lance Anderson said.

However, other employers are not as fortunate and it’s affected local volunteer fire departments. With the number of grass fires spreading quickly the number of firemen dropped at one precinct four station from 25 to 20, and as staffing suffers, funding does too.

"When we have a high call volume like we're having this year. obviously the money just runs out a little bit quicker," Precinct Four's Joe Ondrasek said.

In 1978 all volunteer fire departments were established in Brazos County surviving then only on donations like bake sales. Now departments receive donations, but they also started receiving tax money when tax districts were established here in 1980, as well as partial grants, but with 470 calls in 2005, 50 to 60 of them grass fires, money goes faster.

"Over the past five or 10 years that money has stayed the same, so we have not really seen a dramatic increase in our funding versus our calls, " Ondrasek said. "There has been a ten to twenty percent increase per year in our calls and there is no funding increase."

But folks like Will stick with it even though it gets frustrating as local volunteers continue to fight a problem with no end in sight.

Tuesday, FEMA authorized millions of dollars to help Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico fight fires. This money comes after the three states' requests for federal fire management assistance as firefighters worked tirelessly to contain wind-driven wildfires.

The authorization makes FEMA funding available to pay 75 percent of the state's eligible firefighting costs under an approved grant specifically designed for managing, mitigating and controlling any fire that threatens to become a major disaster.


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