Central Texas volunteer fire departments struggle with funding, seek donations

Call volume is skyrocketing and finding people who are willing to be volunteer firefighters is becoming increasingly difficult, according to the National Volunteer Fire Council.
Posted at 3:58 PM, Jul 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-09 00:48:39-04

BOSQUE COUNTY, Texas — Central Texas volunteer fire departments are seeking community support as their crews face increasing costs amid a busy fire season.

In most towns, tax dollars cover just a portion of the operating costs of volunteer fire departments. Many rely on fundraisers and donations to cover the rest—which is used for trucks, fuel, repairs, and supplies.

"You're looking at a $300,000 dollar business here," first assistant chief of the Clifton Fire Department, Michael Snyder said.

The pandemic forced many departments to cancel fundraising events in recent years. Increasing costs of supplies and fuels aren't helping.

"Everybody needs a little help," Snyder said. "Especially when the trucks are out there running the hours that they're running and these guys are the hours that they are."

Clifton and McGregor fire departments, like most, also turn to the Texas A&M Forest Service for grants. Its rural volunteer fire department assistance program helps use state money to cover some of the cost of trucks and supplies.

“We got a grant to get a couple of our brush trucks taken care of and we got some of our equipment that way,” said Chad Rivas, a lieutenant for McGregor Fire Department.

But those grants run out. The Forest Service said it's currently able to give about $17 million in assistance annually. It has a backlog of requests, however, estimated to cost $158 million.

“They can only help so many departments at a time too, so sometimes you gotta wait in line," Snyder said.

That's where the need from community donations comes in. The city of Meridian is even asking for Venmo donations for its department as it battles the Hard Castle fire in Bosque County.

Departments said the best way people can help is to reach out to their local departments and see what they need most.