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Texas volunteer fire departments say state funding not enough

By Jennifer Kendall, jkendall@ktxs.com
Published On: Jun 11 2013 10:10:10 PM CDT
Updated On: Jun 12 2013 02:52:27 PM CDT
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AUSTIN, Texas -

Texas lawmakers decided to give volunteer fire departments more money than last year, but far less than the departments were requesting.

Every year millions of dollars go into the Volunteer Fire Department Assistance Fund in Texas. That money comes from tax dollars and revenue from fireworks sales, but this year the legislature is taking some of that money and giving it to different programs.

This comes after a busy year for many volunteer fire departments. From tornadoes to a deadly fertilizer explosion in West, many times they're the first to respond.

"Somewhere between eight to nine out of every 10 departments in Texas are volunteer. So volunteer departments are huge all across the state,” Ecca Volunteer Fire Chief Jimmy Hall said.

Money dedicated to helping many of those departments has been cut over the last few years. This year lawmakers decided to allow the Forest Service to give out $18.5 million from the Volunteer Fire Departments Assistance Fund to departments all across the state.

"It's certainly more helpful than last year because of the increase in money,” Hall said. “However, the last time I looked they had many more requests than they had funding for so not all requests are going to get met, which means people are going to run short on equipment, training and some of the other things they put in for. It does help some, but there's still a shortage.”

In fact, there are $86 million in unfunded requests from Texas VFDs – and the money is there. The State Comptrollers Office estimates by 2014 there will be $90 million in the account.

So why not give volunteer firefighters what they're asking for?

In a statement, Finance Committee Chair state Sen. Tommy Williams said, "Nobody gets everything. Funding volunteer fire departments had to be weighted along with other potentially life and death items, like Medicaid funding, nursing home funding…"

Hall doesn't agree.

"When monies are earmarked for certain things, in some cases they're a tax or a levy, and they're meant to support the volunteer fire department specifically, and when it goes to other areas it my help those areas, but it certainly hurts the volunteer fire departments," Hall said.