MADISON COUNTY, Ala. – Several communities across North Alabama might be seeing letters in the mail asking for donations to their local volunteer fire department. Volunteer fire departments send these letters every year, but now, the urgency is much higher.
You don’t have to drive too far down county roads to see the population growth. The Toney Volunteer Fire Department says they’ve responded to more than 700 calls this year. Calls are up across the board all over North Alabama. Outside of population growth, the pandemic is also applying pressure to an already fragile EMS workforce.
“We are using a lot more supplies now. We are staying on scene longer,” said Heath Jones, the President of the Toney Volunteer Fire Department.
HEMSI, Madison County’s only ambulance service, has been open about their slowing response times. Firefighters are left picking up slack with medical calls. Volunteer departments, primarily focus on fire prevention, but now the lines between fire and medical are blurred.
“Those are costly supplies when it comes to volunteer departments with a limited budget,” said Jones.
“We’ve spent roughly $24,000 so far on EMS supplies. Fifteen thousand of that did come from a CARES Act grant,” said Zachary Trulson, the President of the Moores Mill Volunteer Fire Department.
Volunteer fire departments would rather not send you letters asking for donations. The letters themselves typically share their local response stats along with suggestions for monthly donations. A more cost-effective solution in the eyes of the volunteers would be small hikes in meter or sales tax.
“At some point, we will need to look at expanding that if we want to have the fire service in Madison County at top tier,” said Jones.
If you didn’t know, firefighting isn’t cheap.
“The radios we issue our personnel, those are $2,500 a piece,” said Jones.
The air packs along with the backpack holsters you have seen on the backs of firefighters can be the difference between life and death. Which comes at a hefty cost.
“We purchased 18. It was in excess of $300,000,” said Jones.
In Moores Mill Community, They had to purchase an additional used fire truck because of growth north of Huntsville.
“That cost is actually going to be about $15,000 a year from our budget,” said Trulson.
Some residents may get several letters from different volunteer fire departments. The truth is, these departments often go out of their districts to assist other agencies because of staffing and response time issues.
Some departments have a goal to get a few thousand of their residents to donate $10 a month over the course of a year. If they could do that consistently, they could pay for gear and potentially pay firefighters to better staff county areas. Most volunteer fire departments take donations online.
Below are links to several websites for volunteer fire departments in Madison County:
Click here for phone numbers. Not all Madison County VFD’s have websites or active social media.