Funding little for VFDs

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, June 27, 2007

By By Lisa Tindell and Kerry Whipple Bean
Fish fry dinners. Crawfish boils. Yard sales.
Those fundraisers are not much help in the face of high costs for insurance, fuel, equipment and trucks needed by area volunteer fire departments, but firefighters agree that every little bit helps.
Still, those fundraisers - combined with the annual revenue from taxes and grants - have many fire departments surviving on outdated equipment and inadequate insurance coverage.
Holmes' concerns are echoed by volunteer fire departments across easter Escambia County. With 22 departments in the county, funds from state agencies are spread pretty thin.
Fire Chief Michael Taylor estimates that his Appleton Volunteer Fire Department receives about $21,000 per year in funds from taxes, along with a small check from the state.
After maintenance costs, insurance payments and utilities, there isn't much left for equipment, Taylor said. And those costs add up - a link of fire hose for $150, a new nozzle for $1,000.
Taylor has fire trucks parked at his house, waiting for a new fire station big enough to house them.
Some departments struggle to provide workman's compensation insurance for their firefighters - and some can't even afford it.
Roberts Volunteer Fire Department has decided to provide that insurance for volunteers this year, Chief John Wilson said. Without it, &#8220if you're a volunteer and you get hurt on a call, you have to pay for it,” he said.
So where does the bulk of the money fire departments receive come from? There are a few major sources - the Alabama Forestry Commission, a road and bridge tax, sales taxes, fundraisers, and grants.
Many fire departments - including Roberts - receive a check from the Alabama Forestry Commission because they help fight fires near forests.
This year, funds statewide amounted to just more than $1.8 million, Mott said. When that amount was divided between the almost 1,000 departments who qualified and made application, departments received just under $19,000.
Mott said the funds could vary depending on the appropriations given and by the number of departments who qualify and make a request for a share of the funds.
Mott said the number of departments only fluctuates by eight or 10 each year with a level distribution among all departments.
Other funding for volunteer fire departments in Escambia County comes from tobacco taxes and a certain amount of sales tax.
Sanks said each volunteer fire department received funds from the 2005-2006 fiscal year. Each department received $3,075 from tobacco taxes and $10,880 in sales taxes for the year.
Dixonville Volunteer Fire Department, as well as many other departments, holds fundraising events throughout the year to supplement money received from state and county agencies.
Migas said his group is also planning some door-to-door visits to let people in their area know about their needs.
But many fire chiefs said fundraising events can only go so far.
Other organizations help out with donations.
Southern Pine Electric Cooperative has had a program in place for several years that allows customers to make those monthly contributions and will continue to offer the program as well as other funding possibilities through the cooperative.
Harrison said departments can apply for funds by explaining specific needs and documenting how it can help the community they serve.