Wherever and whenever rural area firefighting is done by 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 firefighting officials from all corners of the county. I completely understand, and I like to help them drive home that point now and then.

The operative word when considering the subject of fighting fire in Texas County is “volunteer,” and the concept that word represents is what really matters with regard to funding. Since there’s no tax base or governmental entity providing steady income, each and every rural department in the county exists almost entirely by way of gathering its own funds, and the men (or sometimes women) wearing helmets and protective gear are not on salary or making an hourly wage.

And, of course, there is one form of funding that stands out above others on several levels: Annual dues.

To break it down in simple terms, each department serves a designated zone, and residents of that zone are asked – but not required – to pay an annual fee (or dues) to their specific department. Those funds go toward every possible need, from basics like gasoline for response vehicles, to training of firefighters (both new and experienced) to a wide variety of equipment (like “bunker gear,” breathing apparatus, specialized gloves, hoses, axes and much, much more).

And, of course, fire trucks sometimes need new tires, a firefighter’s gas mask might break, a communications radio will fail, a toilet at the fire station will need repair – you get the idea.

And don’t forget the valuable efforts of some volunteer departments’ rescue squads that respond to bad crashes and other incidents not involving fire.

And, of course, the cost of all of it goes up every year – sometimes way up (as with insurance). But the bottom line is, money is imperative to everything a volunteer fire department does.

All things considered, I can never understand why anyone would be hesitant to pay fire department dues. These days, it’s like $50 a year – or less in some cases.

I’ve sometimes heard it said that “people will spend 50 bucks on booze and cigarettes without thinking twice, but they won’t spend 45 or 50 bucks to pay for fire protection for a whole year.” That’s true, and when you look at it that way, not paying fire dues just doesn’t stand to reason.

Basically, dues and other funding sources assure that volunteer fire departments have the means to do what people want them to do: Fight fire and respond to other emergencies that don’t necessarily involve flames. Conversely, volunteer departments can’t operate without adequate financial support.

Once when I was discussing the issue of dues with a local fire chief, 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 $50 expenditure once every 12 months, it seems like a no-brainer to me to pay. And really, when you think about everything that comes with that rather modest sum, it looks like quite a bargain.

Anyway, while some people might question the viability of volunteer fire departments, one thing’s for sure: Volunteer firefighting is a system that’s in place in Texas County, so perhaps the only logical thing to do is support the county’s fire departments until further notice.

I’d say that’s without question in our best interest, and the simplest 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.


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