Pineywoods fire department struggling to pay bills

By ELANE JONES, Daily Mountain Eagle
Posted 9/13/16

The Pineywoods Volunteer Fire Department’s board of directors is searching for ways to raise funds in an effort to keep from shutting down.

Chairman Dowell Freeman said the department’s revenue comes from donations and fire dues, which are …

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Pineywoods fire department struggling to pay bills

Posted

The Pineywoods Volunteer Fire Department’s board of directors is searching for ways to raise funds in an effort to keep from shutting down.

Chairman Dowell Freeman said the department’s revenue comes from donations and fire dues, which are voluntary.

“But we’re not receiving fire dues from everyone in our fire coverage area, so we’re struggling to pay our bills right now,” he said.

Freeman said the department brings in approximately $1,200 from quarterly Swamp Johns’ dinner fundraisers, but that is a drop in the bucket compared to the department’s $40,000 annual operational budget.

“We pay for workmans comp insurance on all of our firefighters, general liability insurance and insurance on our building as well, and all that insurance is the biggest chunk of our budget,” Freeman said. “Then you factor in the cost of utilities, fuel cost and maintenance cost on all of our vehicles, as well as the cost to replenish our medical supplies, and we’re at a crossroads to where we’re just trying to survive right now.”

Board members said there are a number of citizens living in the Pineywoods community who support their local fire department as much as they possibly can, but not everyone does.

“All we asked is that the residents living in our coverage area send in their fire dues each year, which are only $35 a year. But only 20 percent of them do,” Freeman said. “I know paying the fire dues is a voluntary thing and we fully understand things are tough right now for everyone. But things will get a lot tougher if we have to shut down our fire department.”

Pineywoods Fire currently has 1,150 homes in its coverage area, but the department has only collected $4,550 so far this year from 130 of those residents.

Residents living in the Pineywoods community who are customers of the Curry Water Authority have the option to pay their voluntary fire dues on their monthly water bills.

The members of the Pineywoods Fire Board of Directors are currently working to get the Jasper Water Works and Sewer Board to offer the same service to their customers who live in Pineywoods.

Board members have conducted a survey with 500 Pineywoods residents who are on Jasper Water in Pineywoods.

All but two gave their signatures or gave verbal agreements that they would be willing to pay their fire dues through their water bill.

More than 900 Pineywoods residents are on Jasper Water, according to Freeman.

Several board members believe some residents take it for granted that the fire department will always be there, but that may not be the case for much longer in Pineywoods.

“The bottom line is, if we don’t start getting some help from our community, we’re going to have to shut our doors,” Freeman said. “And then what will they do when something happens? And if we have to shut down, their homeowners insurance will go up also.”

Freeman said he believes some people may not fully understand what it takes to run a volunteer fire department on a daily basis.

“I know I didn’t have a clue about what was involved until I became a member of the Pineywoods Fire Department’s board of directors,” Freeman said. “Boy, did I get a rude awakening real fast. It takes a lot of money and personnel, which is something else we’re lacking as well.”

The Pineywoods Volunteer Fire Department was established in 1987, and the fire station, which is located on Pineywoods/Sipsey Road, was built the same year. The department currently has 17 active volunteer firefighters on roll; a five-member board of directors, which includes Chairman Dowell Freeman, Secretary Barbara Forrester, Treasurer Geraldine Aaron and board members, Jerome McClendon and Ed Aaron; and one volunteer fundraiser food coordinator, Pat McClendon.

“Our fire station, which is a metal structure built in 1987, has been standing here for a long time,” Ed Aaron said. “So long in fact it’s in desperate need of some repairs as well, before it falls down around our ears.”

Board treasurer Geraldine Aaron said Pineywoods Fire hosts several fundraisers throughout the year to try and raise enough money to make up the difference in funding received from fire dues, but it is still not enough.

“It really bothers me every time I have to tell our guys we can’t afford to replace a piece of worn-out equipment or fire hose, simply because we don’t have enough money in our budget,” Aaron said. “And that doesn’t even include the worn-out turnout gear they have to wear when fighting fires.”

Aaron said the turnout gear the department uses is about 15 years old and should have been replaced a long time ago.

But due to the lack of funding, the fire department simply cannot afford to pay the estimated $1,500 to $2,000 per firefighter to do that right now.

“Our guys are all volunteers. They have regular jobs and families who depend on them just like everyone else in this community,” Aaron said. “But when they get a call to respond to a fire or medical emergency, they don’t hesitate. They just go right on, with no protection, and put their lives on the line for the people of this community. And I think it’s time we (the community) return the favor.”