I’ve changed a few words and made a few subtle changes, but for the most part this column reads the same as it did when it ran in early 2015. Consider it a follow-up to last week’s installment.
Wherever firefighting is left up to volunteers, payment of dues is equally important to both fire departments and residents. Like in Texas County, for example.
Time and again, I’ve heard that point made by fire chiefs and fire association presidents from all corners of the county. And every time I’ve replied that I completely understand.
In turn, I like to help to drive home that point now and then.
As I’ve stated in the past, the operative word when considering the subject of fighting fire in Texas County is “volunteer,” and the concept that word represents is all that really matters with regard to funding. Each and every department in the county exists almost entirely by way of gathering its own funds, and most of the men (and women) inside the protective gear are not paid a dime.
Of course, the City of Houston FD is the exception, as it gets a little help from the city and its personnel receive a tidbit of financial compensation for their efforts. But even the city department isn’t exactly buried in cash, and it needs every morsel of assistance it can get (especially in order to adequately maintain its mutual aid agreements with several other departments).
Sure, departments solicit grants that are available from various sources and at times receive donations from well-meaning business people and good-hearted citizens. But there is one form of funding that stands out on several levels: Annual member dues.
To break it down in simple terms, each department serves a designated zone (although the boundaries of some zones are less defined than others), and residents of that zone are asked – but not required – to pay an annual fee to their specific department. Like funds from grants and donations, dues go toward fulfillment of every possible need for a given department, from basics like gasoline for response vehicles, to training of firefighters (both new and experienced) to a myriad of gear like breathing apparatus, hoses, axes and much, much more.
And, of course, the trucks sometimes need new tires, a firefighter’s gas mask will break, a communications radio will fail, a new technique will need to be learned – you get the idea. Money is imperative to everything a volunteer fire department does.
All things considered, I always fail to understand why anyone would be hesitant to pay fire department dues. Heck, I’ve heard a chief or two talk about how even some people who regularly carry five times more than a year’s dues in their wallet are known to refuse to pay.
And I often here it said (or something similar) that “people will spend 50 bucks on booze and cigarettes without thinking twice, but they won’t spend $35 to $45 to pay for fire protection for a whole year.” I have to admit, when you look at it that way, not ponying up fire dues doesn’t stand to reason.
Basically, dues and other funding sources ensure that volunteer fire departments have the means to do what people want them to do: Fight fire and respond to various incidents and emergencies that don’t involve flames. Conversely, they couldn’t operate without adequate financial support.
Once when I was discussing the issue of dues with Raymondville Volunteer Fire Department Chief Mike Jackson, he called them “cheap insurance.” How true.
I mean, when the difference between having fire protection and not having it could come down to a $45 expenditure once every 12 months, the choice for me is a no-brainer in favor of paying. Really, when you think about everything that comes with that rather modest sum, it looks like quite a bargain.
Anyway, while some people question the viability of volunteer fire departments (probably with a fair amount of validity), one thing’s for sure: Volunteer firefighting is a system solidly in place in Texas County, and that’s not going to change any time soon. So perhaps the only logical thing to do until further notice is support the county’s fire departments.
That would seem to be in our best interest, with no exceptions. And the best way for the average individual to do it is to pay those annual dues.
Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald.