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Central Texas volunteer firefighters respond to neighbor bankruptcy


CHALK BLUFF, Texas (KWTX) – Many local volunteer fire departments don’t just fight fires, they fight to survive.

After years of financial hardship, the Chalk Bluff volunteer firefighters were officially disbanded at midnight on Wednesday.

“Members of the Chalk Bluff Volunteer Fire Department decided by majority vote to go ahead with the disbandment of the organization and turn the response district over to Elm Mott Fire & Rescue,” Elm Mott Fire and Rescue Chief Casey Perry said in a letter to Residents of Chalk Bluff in mid-November.

The letter went on to say that effective December 1, Elm Mott Fire & Rescue would absorb their area of ​​coverage and now take their medical and fire calls.

“It’s getting difficult for these fire departments to keep a minimum budget, and Chalk Bluff, unfortunately, stumbled upon that,” Perry told KWTX on Tuesday. “The demand from the fire department far exceeds what it is capable of at this time. “

James Webb, deputy chief of operations at EMFR, is one of 23 volunteer firefighters in the department.

He says they are becoming volunteer firefighters, but the amount of help they will now have to provide is about to double.

“I’m excited but at the same time I’m nervous,” said Webb. “We take on a lot of responsibility.

EMFR is now doubling its area of ​​intervention.

The department was responsible for almost 20 square miles, however, it will now absorb the approximately 17 square miles owned by Chalk Bluff, giving it a coverage area of ​​over 36 square miles.

EMFR will also take over the Chalk Bluff station.

The Ministry will take on the additional responsibility with almost the same amount of resources it had before, as most of the Chalk Bluff legacy gear is not safe to use.

“On a staff level, we’ll see a bit of a growing challenge there, but a good majority of our members live in the Chalk Bluff area anyway,” Perry said. “By allowing us to set up a device and personnel at this station, it will probably reduce our response time by three to five minutes. “

Perry says the news of the change went well.

“It was very well received, the residents of Chalk Bluff were very supportive of the move,” said Perry.

McLennan County Commissioner for Enclosure 3 Will Jones describes how Chalk Bluff VFD got into this situation.

“It’s pretty complicated, but a few years ago the fire truck they bought through a loan from the SHU was seized, which resulted in them not being able to receive federal grants and funding. for the next several years, ”Jones said. . “Their fundraising has also declined. “

Jones believes taking over EMFR is the best option, but also warns of possible financial difficulties ahead for them.

“I think it’s good for the future for everyone,” Jones said. “But it’s going to be a lot of work for Elm Mott Fire, so we just have to try to support them as best we can.”

Each of McLennan County’s 14 Volunteer Fire Departments receives an annual stipend of $ 5,500.

It’s unclear if Elm Mott will receive Chalk Bluff’s share.

“That remains to be decided,” Jones said. “I have always advocated for more money for volunteer firefighters, we are doing it slowly but surely, and I will continue to advocate for them.”

Perry says they’re going to have to get creative to find additional funding.

“Just standard equipment on a fire apparatus, we added it the other day, you’re looking for almost $ 100,000 just for the standard equipment, not including the truck itself, so there goes. have a lot of grassroots effort on our side to bring this station up to what we think is a safety standard for the Chalk Bluff community, ”Perry said.

Perry and Webb urge people to donate or volunteer.

“We’re always looking for more staff, and you don’t have to be 6’3, 250 pounds, kicking doors and putting out fires: we need people to do it all, to help raise money, to fund, if you want to show up and sweep the floor, wash trucks … it comes in all shapes and sizes, ”said Webb. “Thanks to those who support us, everything counts, everything helps, we don’t have the privilege of keeping these trucks, because when the call goes down it’s ‘everyone on the bridge’ and you have to get there quickly , and the trucks take a beating, and it all costs money.

Perry says they are also looking for people with business acumen to fill the vacancies on their finance board as they work on acquiring new equipment because Chalk Bluff VFD had a limited device. to answer calls safely and quickly.

The acquired engines were built in the 1980s: one has a transmission leak, the other peaks at 15 miles per hour.

“We’re currently trying to acquire a new structural engine, when I say ‘new’ … the device is about 25 years old, and we’re just trying to put something into the Chalk Bluff community that will be viable and usable and will serve the community for years to come, ”said Perry.

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