Many East Texas fire departments are faced with a major problem. Tight budgets make it difficult for departments to afford insurance for volunteers. One example, the Rocky Branch Volunteer Fire Department in Morris County.
"We just need more people, more money," said Chief John Calender. "I know everybody needs more money but where do you draw the line?"
Chief Calender said he works with a $5,400 a year budget, an amount he said does not fund insurance for his crew.
"A fireman goes out there and gets hurt, he's on his own," said Calender. "We can't help him, as much as we want to, we would try but we can't help him with the funds and the bills that are due, and if he's off work that's just money he looses."
Kevin Knight has served as a volunteer fire fighter for almost 28 years. He said he can testify to a lack of insurance for firefighters in departments across the state.
"The Texas Forest Service has a workman's comp insurance type program," said Knight, "but our fire department's so small we actually do not have the funds to pay for the policy. You can't ask a volunteer to turn around and say 'Hey will you anty up a $100 for your insurance policy.'"
Knight said for most volunteers, money made on regular paying jobs is not enough to keep loved ones healthy and pay for firefighter insurance.
"Most of us are doing what we can to support our families and insurance. The wife and kids are priority versus the workman's comp down here."
Kevin Knight said he hopes for his family's sake, he is never seriously hurt while responding to a dangerous call.
"If I go out and get hurt, it's all on me," he said.
Chief calender said the department cannot afford to keep equipment and fire units up to current safety standards.
The Rocky Branch Volunteer Fire Department plans to hold a community fundraiser in October.
Maya Golden reporting, firstname.lastname@example.org