As volunteer fire departments are unable to continue their many fundraisers throughout the year, the 19 serving Lamar County are reeling in the financial pressures. However, the community has a way to help alleviate the financial burdens VFDs face through the Lamar County Water Supply VFD Contribution Program – a $3.25 donation on each water bill.
“The first responders who respond to a full arrest or respiratory arrest or any time it’s a traumatic accident, we’re in the position to save these people’s lives long before an ambulance will get there,” President of Lamar County Volunteer Firefighters Association Roger Bussell said. “If you put a monetary value on it, the services the LC VFDs provide – fire suppression, medical first response, vehicle wrecks, search and rescue, etc. – you’re talking millions of dollars in what would be salaries that people are getting that’s basically free.”
Bussell said the money helps the VFDs provide better services to the surrounding community.
“When we start getting into financial difficulties, we have to start sacrificing tools and equipment that puts people’s lives at risk,” Bussell said. “Safety is always the first thing to go when funds start dwindling. Safety to all personnel – we start responding to calls with equipment that’s outdated, PPE that’s not current and not safe. But it’s all we have so we’d make do with what we have.”
Bussell said all 19 VFDs in Lamar County face the same crisis.
Rick Browning, Faught VFD assistant chief, said the overhead costs to run a VFD – fixed and variable – helps the departments provide the life-saving services.
“We have to have donations,” Browning said. “Fundraisers are just a part of it, but you need every piece of the pie in order to operate. When fundraising money dries up, how do we operate?”
Browning said Faught alone just spent $20,000 to repair one of its fire trucks.
“We have to be able to buy fuel, pay our insurance bills, pay our electric bills, maintenance costs,” Browning said. “We don’t know where our next call is coming from, but we’ll continue to be there as long as we can pay our bills.”
About the Lamar County Water Supply VFD Contribution Program
As the program has been active since 2003, more than 3,500 Lamar County Water Supply consumers are not enrolled.
Bussell compared the program to a cheap house or even health insurance, as the volunteer fire departments are typically the first on the scene of an accident, house fire or traumatic incident.
“It’s hard for me to see how people would not want to do it,” he said. “It’s a simple phone call to the water department, or just swing by the water department to check a box.”
Browning said all VFDs are hurting financially due to COVID-19.
“People don’t realize how much it actually costs to operate this business,” Browning said. “The people get the service for free, you just don’t want to be one of our customers if you can help it. It’s just a hard situation for everyone.”
Call volume for Faught VFD is up by about 55 percent compared to 2019 and Powderly VFD is up by about 25 percent. Revenue for the VFDs continues to decline, however, calls are growing.
Bussell said Powderly VFD’s fundraiser typically brings in about $30,000.
“That’s about two-thirds of our operating budget,” he said in regard to about $50,000 in costs to run a VFD year-round.
Volunteer fire departments are non-profit organizations. This means, “the people get the services for free.”
Though VFDs can file for grants to help ease the costs of some equipment, the departments still have out-of-pocket expenses.
For more information about the Lamar County Water Supply VFD Contribution Program, contact Lamar County Water Supply at 903-785-5586, or call Bussell at 903-495-4804 or email LamarCountyVFFA@gmail.com.
Other ways to contribute to the local volunteer fire departments, call Bussell or donate directly to your local department. For information on your local volunteer fire department, contact Lamar County Emergency Management Coordinator Quincy Blount at 903-782-1118.
“All of our departments are facing the same crisis. Our fundraisers are having to cancel because of COVID.”