Besides wildfires, volunteers fight for new funding



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Posted on September 9, 2011 at 10:48 PM

Updated Saturday, Sep 10 at 1:17 AM

WHITNEY - Volunteer firefighters lost a major source of funding last week, when the state stopped offering $16 million in grants to replace aging trucks during the worst wildfire outbreak in Texas history.

Volunteers fight more than 90 percent of these wildfires, according to the Texas Forest Service.

"I've been on a fire the last four weeks - everyday," said Bobby Baker, Assistant Chief of the Peoria Volunteer Fire Department.

In addition, almost every rural fire truck has taken a beating this year, with the record number of wildfires.

For example, Baker said his department has three brush trucks. But a 17-year-old Ford is the only one working right now, and they couldn't turn it off for our interview because it's too tough to restart.

"Speaking for most of the departments that are out here, we have had a lot of trucks go down," Baker said at a staging area for the Lake Whitney wildfire in Hill County. "The pumps have gone out on them. The trucks are broke down. This has been a real hard year on everybody - all fire departments."

The legislature made it worse during the last session.

As of last week, lawmakers slashed grant funding to the Texas Forest Service by $16 million.

Volunteer departments relied on that money to replace aging fire trucks.

Over the last decade, these grants have helped purchased 1,407 new fire trucks - one for almost every volunteer department in the state.

Firefighters said an aging fleet of trucks now means more maintenance.

But volunteer departments are always strapped with money and predict fewer will be in service.

"There's nothing I hate worse than having to go help somebody on a fire, and I either don't get there or it breaks down on fighting the fire," Baker said.

Volunteers warn this funding cut will likely lead to longer response times, if their vehicles can make it at all.