Our Opinion

Published 1:43 am Monday, July 9, 2007

By Staff
Firefighters need more funding
Imagine waking up to a house filled with smoke. You dial 911, but no one comes to put out the fire that soon engulfs your house.
That scenario nearly happened to Escambia County resident Betty Adkison three weeks ago, but eventually five volunteer fire departments showed up on the scene to help save what little they could of her house.
Those fire departments were hampered by a number of problems that morning, but most of them stem from a lack of funding - not from a lack of effort on the part of volunteer firefighters.
Our volunteer fire departments are expected to respond to emergencies as far-ranging as a wreck on the interstate to a massive fire, but they receive little funding. In Escambia County, a road and bridge tax and a sales tax give most of them about $14,000 per year, with the state providing a little more money and luck with grants and fundraisers adding to the pot.
With those funds, departments are expected to outfit all of their firefighters, pay for training, insurance and utilities, and maintain their equipment.
The fact is, the fire departments need more money.
What's the solution? Some volunteers think a household fee system could work, but such a system goes against the nature of volunteer departments. Those departments would have to guarantee that they would show up at every emergency, and that's not easy to do when firefighters have full-time jobs.
If the county did adopt such a system, we would expect the departments to comply with certain regulations, such as increased training and scheduling firefighters so that someone was on call and available at all times.
An easier solution would be for the state Legislature to find ways to set aside more funding for volunteer departments, through set asides like the county road and bridge tax or by diverting funds from another area.
In the meantime, make sure you keep the volunteers in your area in mind. Attend a fundraiser or send in a donation. You may take their service for granted now, but a volunteer firefighter could save your life or your house someday. We need to help them get the means to do it.

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