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Texomans and Texas lawmakers fight for volunteer fire department funding

By: Morgan Downing Email
By: Morgan Downing Email

GRAYSON COUNTY, TX -- Texas volunteer fire department funding has been slashed across the state, leaving volunteer firefighters worried about what they're going to do without enough money for their operations. A local woman is petitioning for that funding to be restored.

There are 19 fire departments in Grayson County, only three of them: Sherman, Denison and Van Alstyne, are paid. The rest volunteer.

"We run strictly on donations," Assistant Fire Chief Terry Garrison said.

The Sadler Volunteer Fire Department joins hundreds across the state of Texas that rely on funding from the Texas Forest Service.

"This set of gear right here runs approximately $2,000 is what we paid for this," Garrison said.

Garrison says these fire trucks total about $250,000 -- money this volunteer fire department wouldn't have had if it weren't for grants.

In 2010, the state legislature cut 75 percent of the Texas Volunteer Fire Departments funding. Right now, volunteer departments are allotted $13.5 million a year that builds in a fund, down from $30 million.

Many worry with the current dry conditions and risk of another dangerous fire season, the departments are going to feel the heat.

"If we do have problems with a vehicle, we're going to be hunting for money to keep our equipment running," Garrison said.

"We depend of volunteer firefighters not just for fire issues, but also for accidents," Ella Fitzbag said.

Fitzbag is a local woman who is fighting for the funding to be restored. She's started an online petition that nearly 500 people have signed.

"Our firefighters are at risk and our communities are at risk," she said.

Fitzbag has voiced her concerns in Austin, and some lawmakers like Rep. David Simpson agree.

Simpson says the volunteer fire department fund is replenished by fees that insurers pay on homeowner policies. But he says most of it is being drawn on for other general spending outside of fire fighting.

"We either need to use the funds for which they were dedicated for that dedicated purpose, or stop taxing people. And we fought a war over taxation without representation, this is taxation with misrepresentation," Simpson said.

For Garrison and other volunteer firefighters, a solution is needed soon in order to function.

"It's hard being in a small community that we're in to keep asking the people for the funds that we need. So, we're trying to find other avenues outside of the community," Garrison said.


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