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HB 2604 helps Texas firefighters gain hands-on training, boosts local economy during annual Fire School

Posted at 5:27 PM, Jul 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-27 19:17:09-04

COLLEGE STATION, TEXAS  — Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service, or TEEX, wraps up their annual fire training schools at the end of this week.

This week is the annual TEEX Municipal Fire school, where students from communities across Texas are in town ready to learn.... and lodge.

Soaking up life-saving knowledge to take back to their own communities... all while helping our own right here, these courageous men and women are making an impact.

"What they are doing is very important. They take that back and they are serving their community. The training happens here and we are really proud to be a part of that," Greg Stafford, Brazos Valley Hospitality Association President/GM shared with KRHD 25 News.

Stafford, General Manager and President of Brazos Valley Hospitality Association and the General Manager at the Texas A&M Hotel and Conference Center, says, hospitality is the biggest export industry.

"...Bringing money from outside into our community is a great thing. These are folks here having a great experience and a lot of them come back and vacation with us other times in the year as well. It's great to have them here," Stafford added.

Many of these firefighters in town are from small communities themselves, so they support local when and where they can.

"We try to pick local things. We are from a small town, so we understand how important it is to support the locals," Amber Hill, a Firefighter with Gilmer FD said.

Using what they've gained throughout week-long training in Aggieland to take back to their home departments, it's something they say they can only get here.

"It's amazing....once in a lifetime. You can't re-create this anywhere. The amount of people... volunteers.. paid.. all of the instructors. You meet people from all over the state of Texas," LT. Ashley Morrow, with Reagan County Fire and EMS in Big Lake said.

Historically, all three fire schools combined bring in an estimated economic impact of nearly 6 million dollars to community each year.

"It's nice to give back to the community. They are housing us. They are putting up with us the whole week we are here. It's always nice to invest our money back to a place that's always welcoming," Lt. Morrow added.

For the 92nd Annual Municipal Fire School, this week alone, across 242 departments, 987 students are in the school... 950 of those students are here on a grant.

"I am here in the wildland class with the Texas Forest Service grant. This is my second year here. Last time, I came with the grant, I took extrication, and this time I am taking wildland," LT. Morrow added.

An assistance program grant founded nearly 20 years ago, this year $660,000 dollars have been awarded to these students allowing them to enter the school at no cost.

"The Texas A&M Forest Service gets awarded money yearly to give out to local and volunteer fire departments. That is House Bill 2604. That 17 million is distributed out throughout the state of Texas for training, for equipment, and for apparatus," Guy Duncan, assistant chief with the Texas A&M Forest Service said."It's a great partnership between TEEX and the Texas A&M Forest Service."

For this year's Municipal School, the Texas A&M Forest Service awarded $661,873 in tuition, meals, and lodging grants to 950 students across 242 departments, representing approximately 89% of all the students attending the 92nd annual Municipal Fire School.

The Texas A&M Forest Service has awarded over $312 million in grants to Texas fire departments, including training tuition for over 91,000 firefighters.

The Rural VFD Assistance Program (HB 2604) was launched in 2001 and provides grants to rural volunteer fire departments for firefighting vehicles, fire, and rescue equipment, protecting clothing, firefighter training, to name a few.

Since the program's inception, there have been nearly 2,000 truck grants, around 10,000 equipment grants, 25,877 training tuition grants, and nearly 90,000 trainees.