East Texas Fire Department Lacks Working Equipment

Faulty, old equipment and a lack of funding could keep one East Texas fire department from responding to your call for help.
The Jackson Heights Volunteer Fire Department covers a 65 square mile area in Smith County.
For the last week, however, every fire unit in the department's fleet is in need of major repairs. Of the departments 3 fire units: 1 is out of service, another is in the shop for repairs and the third broke down on Tuesday.
"We had report of a grass fire on County Road 398," said Jackson Heights Fire Chief Terence Thompson, "This was the only one in service at the time it responded and it broke down in route there. The fire spread and burnt a mobile home."
Luckily the house is vacant, but in dangerous situations where every second counts, Chief Thompson said he doesn't want to stand wondering if his crew will be there at that critical moment.
"I am worried, we have a elementary school up the street with over 300 students in it, and that's my worst fear of something happening to the school."
Some of the vehicles are as many as 24-years-old. Thompson said 70 percent of the department's funds go to repairs.
"We work with a $14,000 a year budget. Right now I'm having to watch everything that we spend," said Thompson.
Tuesday's call was not the first the department had to miss. Thompson said the department's grass fire unit broke down in route to a call last Thursday.
Thompson tested the main engine on the road after making some small repairs, and as KLTV followed along, the need for good equipment became obvious.
Thompson used the engine to put out a grass fire that was found burning out of control.
Later, with the fire out and homes safe, Thompson said he was lucky to have had at least one working engine. Still, he hopes that in the future a blown engine or an electrical short won't keep his crew from saving a life.
The Jackson Heights Volunteer Fire Department is part of a mutual aid agreement with Arp, Winona and Chapel Hill Volunteer Fire Departments. When Jackson cannot respond to a call, those departments will be called to the scene.
Chief Thompson said it can take 20 to 30 minutes for other departments to arrive in the area.

Maya Golden reporting, mgolden@kltv.com