Volunteer fire department will have paid firefighters

By Donna McCollum - bio | email

APPLEBY, TX (KTRE) - Volunteer fire departments with paid firefighters can be found all over, but not so much in Deep East Texas. The Appleby Volunteer Fire Department in Nacogdoches County will become the first VFD in the area to actually staff firefighters. The department has received a federal grant for $164,000 to hire three firefighters.

"Compensated volunteers," is what Assistant Fire Chief Dave Crawford calls them. (They'll work)"roughly from 7:30 to 5:00 Monday through Friday, when most of your volunteers are at work and our manpower tends to be at its lowest point," Crawford explained. Applicants for the jobs may include off duty fire fighters. "Instead of mowing yards, like they do now, they can do what they're trained to do for our department," said Crawford.

When they come to work in about 90 days they'll wait for fires and emergencies in the the future home of the Appleby Volunteer Fire Department. The large metal building is under construction on Highway 59 in Appleby. It is tangible evidence of emergency service district tax dollars at work. "We obtain about $90,000 annually from the tax," said Crawford. A good start to building the spacious building which will hold a growing number of life and property saving equipment and the volunteers to use it.

The department is willing to undergo specialized training in order to qualify for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG). Senator Cornyn assisted with the approval.  "When they (federal government) give you the connotation of fire department they don't differentiate between the city of Houston, the city of Los Angeles or the volunteer fire department outside of Nacogdoches, Texas being Appleby," explained Crawford.

The biggest benefit of all these improvements in the fire department is for the homeowner. "It will definitely drop our rates where their insurance will be a lot less than what it is right now.," Appleby Mayor Gerald Hebert said.

Population growth toward Appleby can be seen by its improved roads leading to numerous subdivisions. They're occupied by homeowners willing to pay for the emergency protection.

"The move to regulate volunteer fire departments is picking up speed," Appleby Fire Department Chief Tim Hooper knows.  "Well with that you are going to be required to have a certain amount of training. That training is expensive. The day of funding that with bar-b-que and fish fries, those days are over," said Hooper.

Appleby is proud for its achievements and wants other volunteer departments to recognize they can do it too. Both fire department leaders expressed concern that some departments may feel Appleby is presenting themselves as "professional firefighters" instead of volunteers. "What we've learned in going through this process we can impart to other fire departments," said Crawford.  "That's what we're here for. It's not about standing out to be different, it's about setting a standard and helping everybody else get there."

In the meantime, the Appleby chiefs say they want to continue providing assistance where ever fires occur. VFD's routinely travel outside their districts to help one another.

If increased regulation does occur and departments don't stay pro active then some VFD's may be forced some day to close their doors.

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