Madison County volunteer fire departments say they need more funding

Published: May. 14, 2020 at 9:17 PM CDT
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MADISON COUNTY, Ala. (WAFF) - As we get closer to the summer, Madison County leaders get closer to budget season.

Millions of dollars are on the table, and Madison County commissioners will get an opportunity to address the years old issue of volunteer fire department funding.

Several volunteer fire chiefs say county funding is falling short. That said, some fire departments are in a much better situation than others.

Monrovia has more than $300,000 at its disposal this year while others have $43,000.

Madison County’s volunteer fire departments work under intense conditions to save lives and property. They rely on protective equipment and county funding to pay for it.

But one chief says the county isn’t giving enough support. He says his station is struggling to pay for protective gear, something that’s failed them at scenes.

“I’ll just continue my begging letters, or selling cookies, whatever I got to do to keep the place open,” said Killingsworth Cove Chief James Sandmeier.

Sandmeier says he’s not confident that more help is coming.

His station has been funded at the bottom of the county since 2011 at just $43,000 a year.

“An airpack is going to cost me $8,000. Matter of fact, I’ve had one that has malfunctioned during a fire, I’ve had to try to have it serviced. It’s not serviceable so I’m going to drop another $8,000 on that," he said.

In November, WAFF 48 News found there are six volunteer stations funded at more than $100,000 this year, and equitable funding is a years old issue for the county.

In 2015, District 1 Commissioner Roger Jones argued the issue, saying, “One volunteer fire department can buy a $650,000 fire truck with all the fancy lettering and chrome, and other fire departments struggle to buy turn out gear for new members.”

On Thursday, he said funding is needed across the board, and a full-time, fully funded county fire department will be needed soon.

“We’re having more and more difficulty having volunteers man the different stations. People are so busy, but at some point we’ll have to go to that," he said.

He says the tax revenue funding the departments has been stable, but the county will need to find new answers to bring in more cash.

Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong will propose a budget and the commissioner will have to vote on it.

Strong did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.

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