Volunteer firefighters needed as wildfires pick up

BLANCO, Texas (KXAN) — Wildfire season is here and that means fire departments around Central Texas are on high alert, but in more rural areas it can be a challenge to respond quickly.

Volunteer fire departments like the station in Round Mountain serve an important role around Central Texas.

“If we weren’t here then they would have to get fire services from the next town over and that could take an extra 15, 20, 30 minutes depending where the call is,” said Jeff Opem, a volunteer firefighter with the Round Mountain Volunteer Fire Department.

The Round Mountain Volunteer Fire Department has 20 volunteer firefighters, but they would like to have 30. These are men and women who not only respond to fires, but also have other jobs as well.

“We are a volunteer fire station,” Round Mountain Volunteer Fire Chief Bill Burden said. “There are no paid staff”

Manchaca Fire Rescue Chief Chris Barron said the recruitment and retention of volunteers has become challenging over the years.

“The decline has just been significant,” Barron said. “Volunteer fire departments are having a hard time keeping up with the recruitment of volunteers.”

Barron said calls in the middle of the night and managing two jobs can turn some people away, but there is work being done to recruit more volunteers.

The Texas A&M forest service has awarded $300,000 to more than 100 departments. The $3,000 grants can be used to buy banners, signs, billboards, flyers, postcards and other things to help recruit.

“These banners are quite a bit helpful,” Burden said.

With hundreds of people driving by the station, posters outside have been put up letting people know they need volunteers.

Burden said since the signs were put up they have had three people reach out about a position.

“They don’t know a lot about what we do so us being able to advertise through the Forest Service Grant gives us the ability to reach out to them,” Burden said.

Jason Keiningham, Texas A&M Forest Service Capacity Building department head, said the pilot project is an attempt to help departments attract people dedicated to serving their communities and he anticipates additional funding to become available next fiscal year.

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