Early City Councilman Travis Eoff is a member of the Early Volunteer Fire Department, and he served as its chief for about 10 years. Eoff resigned as chief in 2012, frustrated at his inability to recruit more people to serve as volunteer firemen.
Eoff decided he would let someone else try. Chad Hill, who followed Eoff as chief, has tried, but the it remains difficult to attract volunteers, Eoff said.
The Early Fire Department has about 10 who show up consistently. Eoff said 15 would be a better number.
Eoff said it seems younger people simply don’t want to volunteer as much as they once did, whether as firefighters or as volunteers for other agencies or charities. “We’re seeing a lot of the ‘me’ generation, the ‘I’ generation,” Eoff said. “Younger people just don’t care to do that sort of thing any more, for whatever reason. A lot of them have the attitude of ‘what’s in it for me?’ If you want to be a volunteer firefighter, you have to make time for it.”
Eoff said other volunteer departments in the county struggle for volunteers. “If Brookesmith has a structure fire and all their guys are at work, there may be some in Winchell that can come,” Eoff said. “Brownwood would send a truck. Bang probably would. We might if we needed to. But that’s that much farther that they need to go before they can get there.”
The Early City Council has provided funds for two paid firefighters during day shifts and for a third firefighter to be on call at night. The budget for the new fiscal year will have funds for a third paid firefighter and a night on-call firefighter, City Administrator Tony Aaron said.
But Aaron sees the need to find a way to address the dual issues of lack of volunteers and a volunteer fire department’s need for more funds.
Aaron recently posted a question on social media:
“With a reduction in new firefighter volunteers, fewer donations, and higher cost of providing services, what are your thoughts on … paying for emergency services for areas outside of the city limits where city taxes are not paid but services are provided?
“It's not about if we should provide the service but more on funding the rising costs.”
Aaron said he doesn’t know if some day creating an emergency district that would have the authority to levy taxes is the answer. But it’s one of many options to consider, Aaron said.
Other communities have tried various plans including implementing a retirement for volunteer firefighters and giving the volunteer firemen discounts on utility bills, Aaron said.
“My intent is to get with our volunteer fire departments and brainstorm and hear their ideas.”
The City of Early provided its fire department with $383,000 in the 2017-’18 budget, which included funds for a new fire truck. The budget for the new fiscal year provides $250,000 for the fire department. The amount is smaller because it does not contain funds for a new truck, Aaron said.
Blanket Fire Chief Robert Rodgers answers quickly if asked what the Blanket Volunteer Fire Department needs. “We need money and we need volunteers,” Rodgers said.
“We need good, reliable people who are willing to show up and help their community. If you want to volunteer, contact the department.”
The best way to contact the department is through its Facebook page, Rodgers said.
Regarding the department’s finances, “we’re always struggling financially but we manage to make it by,” Rodgers said.
There are items the department needs additional funds for, such as a new building, Rodgers said. The department currently has a truck that has to remain parked outside because it does not fit in the existing building, he said.
When asked what motivates those who do serve as volunteer firefighters, Rodgers and Eoff had similar answers.
“Help your community,” Rodgers said. “I don’t know any other way to put it. People need help.”
Eoff said, “the satisfaction of helping people out. To me, that’s what we’re put on this earth to do — the satisfaction of being able to help out and know that you gave back.”