State lawmakers to vote on volunteer firefighters funding

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by Brad Woodard / KHOU 11 News

khou.com

Posted on April 3, 2013 at 10:14 PM

Updated Wednesday, Apr 3 at 10:20 PM

HOUSTON -- The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has given Texas $31.2 million to help cover the costs of the devastating wildfires in 2011. While the federal money will help, it cannot make up for what the state has taken from hundreds of volunteer firefighters.

But, their departments have new hope because of legislation lawmakers in Austin are considering on Thursday.

The weekly dominoes game for seniors at the Plantersville-Stoneham Fire Station puts it in perspective. The all volunteer department is just as much about the community as it is fighting fires.

“Without them, I'd probably burn down,” said Grimes County resident Charlie Cole. “I have a lot of trees. It burned all around me when we had that big Dyer Mill fire.”

That big dyer mill fire of June 2011 destroyed a record number of homes. It spread four-and-a-half miles in just 45 minutes, and Grimes County still bears the scar today.

“It woke everybody up to the fact of what could happen so quickly,” said Fire Chief Stanley Legge

But did it really?

Last year, the state cut funding to volunteer fire departments from $30 million to just $7 million -- or 75 percent. On April 4, state lawmakers will vote on whether to restore the funding.

Chief Legge says the call volume to the department keeps going up, while his trucks keep wearing out. A new fire engine can cost more than $250,000.

“We have to get this money,” said Legge. “Otherwise these volunteer departments rely mostly on people’s donations. And, the economy is getting tighter. You're going to get less and less donations.”

It’s a point that isn’t lost on Charlie Cole

“It could be the difference between life and death,” said Cole.

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