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 the men (and women) inside the protective gear are not paid personnel.
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 crucial to everything a volunteer fire department does.
All things considered, I always fail to understand why more people don’t pay fire department dues. Heck, even some people who regularly carry five times more than a year’s dues in their wallet are known to refuse to pay.
Dues and other means of funding ensures that volunteer fire departments have the means to do what people want them to do: Fight fire (although they also do a lot of responding to situations and incidents that don’t involve flames).
Conversely, they couldn’t operate without adequate financial support.
When I was discussing the issue of dues last week with Raymondville Fire Chief Mike Jackson, he called them “cheap insurance.” It seems to me he was making an understatement.
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 – I’m paying. Really, when you think about everything that comes with that rather modest sum, it starts looking like quite a bargain.
Anyway, while some people question its viability (probably with a fair amount of validity), one thing’s for sure: Volunteer firefighting is the system in place in Texas County, and that’s not going to change any time soon. So perhaps the only logical thing to do is support the county’s fire departments until further notice.
That would seem to be in our best interest, with no exceptions. And the best way to do it is to pay our dues.
Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.