Fires are going strong in Texoma and firemen continue working hard get them 100% contained. The majority of them are volunteer firefighters. Volunteer fire departments get a lot of help from the Texas Forest Service, but it could soon cease to exist.
The Texas Senate is looking over a measure today, and if it is not approved by the end of the legislative session, the Texas Forest Service will shut down this coming September. This is a move that could be devastating to rural fire departments that get fund contributions from the Texas Forest Service. Not to mention extensive help when massive flames spark.
Many volunteer fire departments strongly rely on the benefits the Texas Forest Service provides. Lake Arrowhead Volunteer Fire Department Chief Michael Hall says, "We are very dependent on the forest service for our training, our personal protective equipment. They pay for our training 100%". The Texas Forest Service has a rural VFD Assistance Program where they can give grants to volunteer fire departments to help them out with fire and rescue equipment, trucks, structure and wild land gear, and even reimburse them for training classes.
They have a 90-10 Grant Program where the Texas Forest Service pays 90%, and the firefighters pay the remaining 10%. The TFS can also reimburse a volunteer fire department for use of its equipment in statewide wildfire response. Hall says, "The equipment just to set a bunker gear to make up for the firefighter to be able to make entry in to a structure just to be able to outfit them out which is what's in this bag right here is a little over $2,000" .
But the money will stop flowing from the TFS in September if legislatures cannot come to an agreement to keep it up and running. Hall says if they do not receive the funds it all comes out from their general funds, which is not very much he says.
Texas Forest Service Program Coordinator Jason Keiningham says they've provided more than 10,000 grants and funding totaling more than $8 million to help volunteer fire departments. The Sunset Advisory Commission found there is a continuing need for the Texas Forest Service, but that improvements can be made to the agency's wildfire planning, protection, and response roles. We will continue to monitor this measure as it makes its way through the Texas Legislature.