Emergency Funds For Volunteer Fire Departments

Texas lawmakers provide additional funding for volunteer fire departments due to the unprecedented wildfire season this year. The funds will be administered on a priority basis to departments hardest hit by the wildfires.

The Texas Forest Service will speed up the distribution of 27-million dollars for the Rural Volunteer Fire Department Assistance Program, created in 2001 by Texas lawmakers. April Saginor with the Texas Forest Service, says the
program is providing an extra 5-million dollars for volunteer firefighters.

"Allowable costs are still being finalized, but that most likely will include: safety gear, repairs and operating expenses, fuel, tires, hoses, things like that, and our volunteer departments are the first line of defense. They respond to these wildfires first, and they're out there each and every day working hard, and this takes a toll on their equipment and their personnel. So we're stepping in to help."

The majority of Texas is protected by the 879 volunteer fire departments and another 187 departments are a combination of volunteer and paid. Saginor says these emergency grants come at a critical time for these fire departments.

"I think we were able to predict that it was going to be a difficult season for us, but really no one in our lifetime has seen anything like this. We've seen 3.7-million acres burn. It's been devastating and we expect this to go on through the winter. We start getting some higher winds. Our winter fire season, we usually see wind driven fires. So it's gonna go on and we're in it for the long haul."

Meanwhile, dry conditions that resulted in the fires get the blame for a whole new set of circumstances, that have made it harder for some of us to breathe. The scorching temperatures have kicked up the measurement of ground- level ozone. That's triggering sporadic air quality health alerts, and an uptick in respiratory problems.

"While we're all potentially at risk for developing health consequences, those especially at risk are patients who have a history of asthma, or other chronic respiratory problems."

Dr Paneet Patni is a pulmonary specialist at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic. He says typically the amount of particles inhaled correlates with the amount of symptoms. Those who live near the areas where the smoke has been generated will have a much greater chance of inhaling those particles.

"People should just be aware for symptoms such as wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, increased cough -- those are some of the things you want to look out for. And if you do notice symptoms, consult your doctor."

Last week, the Texas Department of Health Services released an advisory urging people to avoid or minimize their exposure to smoke, and not to add any more to their own indoor pollution if the levels are high on the outside.

Bio photo of Pat Hernandez

Pat Hernandez

Reporter

Pat Hernandez is a general assignments reporter who joined the KUHF news staff in February of 2008...