Usually short on funding, local volunteer fire departments get boost from grant

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 25, 2005

Is it 1969 or 2005?

When looking into the fire station at Forest Home Volunteer Fire Department, a red 1969 fire truck is what is seen. However, thanks to the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program, Forest Home, along with three other volunteer fire departments in Butler County, will be receiving new fire trucks and equipment within the next few months.

"People take for granted the fact that we are here," Chris Hilliard, Butler County Association of Volunteer Fire Departments' president, said. "People think we have lots of money, but we don't."

"We respond to any fire in the community and surrounding areas," Hilliard said. "Many people may not realize that we are the first ones to get called not only to fires, but to car wrecks, hazardous material scenes as well as to cardiac arrest calls. During Hurricane Ivan, we were the ones who cleared the roads in this area and helped with handling emergency food, water and ice to the people in the community."

With a yearly budget of $3,000, many people are unaware of all that has to come from that small amount.

"Insurance on the fire trucks runs $1,600 a year," Hilliard said. "We have liability insurance on both trucks, but we have comprehensive insurance on just one. In addition to that, we have to pay the premiums for workers' compensation insurance and fuel expenses.

Everyone knows about the high gas prices right now, and it takes 50 gallons to fill one fire truck. However, the trucks only get four miles to the gallon."

"Another thing people may not realize is that it costs approximately $1,000 to equip one firefighter," Hilliard said. "This includes a coat, pants, boots, a helmet, gloves, specially-made suspenders and a radio and/or pager."

Under the terms of the Assistance to Firefighters Program, grant recipients are required to provide cost-share funds from five to 20 percent of the project costs. Even though Forest Home received a grant for $171,000 for a new fire truck, the total grant application was for $180,000, which means that the volunteer fire department will have to raise the final $9,000.

"We rely heavily on donations from other departments and especially from the community," Mickey Sexton, Forest Home Volunteer Fire Department fire chief, said.

"Nobody really thinks about us until they really need us. That's the sad part."

According to Mary Till, treasurer and public relations person for the Forest Home V.F.D., some people view the volunteer fire department as something that's not necessary.

"I have heard people say that we are not needed in the community," Till said.

"But, if someone called 911, who do those people think will be dispatched to the scene first?

We will."

"Another big problem we have is keeping volunteers," Hilliard said. "Everyone has to take care of his own family first, and I understand that.

Many people have two jobs, children to care for, and they need insurance for themselves and for their families.

A volunteer fire department can't provide these things for households. That's why we are in such dire need for volunteers as well as the new truck."

Liberty V.F.D. was awarded a $43,672 grant for equipment safety, Searcy V.F.D. received an $85,550 grant for a new fire truck, and Shackleville V.F.D. received a $115, 425 grant for a new fire truck also.

Butler County has a total of 16 volunteer fire departments.