They're always on call when we need their help, but now, they're asking for some help of their own.
Volunteer firefighters statewide are asking the legislature to restore funding that was cut in the last legislative session, cut from $30 million dollars annually to $18.5 million under the House Appropriations Bill. West Carlisle Fire Chief Tim Smith said he's not sure where the rest of that money, generated by a surcharge on property insurance, is actually going.
"That money is earmarked for volunteer fire departments, per the state statute," Smith said. "So, I think they hold that money and help balance the state budget by keeping that in the coffers, and we need to pull that back out. We need to distribute those funds as they were intended."
"We fought a war about taxation without representation. This is taxation with misrepresentation."
State Representative David Simpson of Longview proposed a budget amendment that would restore funding levels. He said firefighters' needs should be a top priority.
"I think the budget is the most important bill of the session. It's the only bill we have to pass, and I think it's important that we to continue to rid it of any gimmicks," Simpson said. "One gimmick is using dedicated funds for other purposes. Putting volunteer fire fighters ahead of the bingo police, and the Texas Commission on the Arts, and economic development and tourism, is a step in the right direction. Using their dedicated funds for the purpose of which it was dedicated."
Smith said that funding is used for a number of things, including fire equipment, fire trucks themselves, and personal clothing items.
"About $4,000 to $5,000 is what it takes to outfit a firefighter from head to toe, that's from helmets to boots," Smith said. "And we need them home after every call. Injuries are always paramount to us, and we try to have a zero-injury rate around here, so personal protective equipment is what it takes."
Coming out of last year's drought and into active fire season, Smith said it's essential that volunteers are properly equipped.
"It's going to start picking up. It really will. We've had a minimum moisture year for the winter, so everything is tender dry, and one little spark will set it off on days like today," Smith said.
Although Simpson's amendments weren't approved by the House, he's optimistic that the conference committee appointed to look at the budget will get that money back where it is supposed to be. Under his proposal, Simpson would cut $19.5 million from economic development and tourism, $6.5 million from Commission on the Arts, and $1.4 million from bingo law enforcement compliance.