Athens Review, Athens, Texas

March 18, 2013

A time to listen

Murchison VFD trying to educate in advance of ESD vote

Rich Flowers
The Athens Review

Athens — The Murchison Volunteer Department invited the community to the fire station Saturday to plead its case for creation of Emergency Services District No. 8, up for a May 11 vote.

The room was mostly empty for a presentation of hundreds of slides showing the department in action, and how quickly a small spark can turn into widespread devastation. Though the turnout was sparse, Fire Chief Gerry Huffman hopes to convince the voters of the department's need for funds to keep the fire trucks ready to roll when the emergency calls come.

“I think the most important thing we can do before election day is educate the public,” Huffman said.

ESDs are political subdivisions established by local voters for the purpose of raising money through ad-valorem taxes on all real property located within the district.  If the ESD is approved by the voters, the district board of directors will set a taxable value that cannot exceed 10 cents per $100 valuation. Huffman said his department needs the funds an ESD can bring for training and equipment.

Henderson County allocates $10,600 to each VFD in the county annually. Huffman said that pays for things such as insurance, but doesn’t touch other expenses. It takes $27,095 to train and equip the average firefighter. Filling up the trucks costs from $350 to $700 each month. The price of fire trucks and apparatus is far beyond what the department can raise through fundraisers and donations. 

The MVD currently has four trucks ready to go. The two brush trucks were pieced together, Huffman said, to make them somewhat functional.

“The smaller trucks run every day for grass fires and medical calls,” Assistant Fire Chief Matthew Randolph said.

ESD proponents want to place a fire station near Lake Athens to lower response times to that area. A small fire can engulf an entire room in three minutes, but it takes the average fire victim three-and-a-half minutes before making the initial emergency call to 9-1-1. That makes response time critical, Huffman said.

The Murchison VFD serves 100 square miles, about one-sixth of Henderson County, with a population of about 13,000.

In the U.S., 76 percent of the firefighters are volunteers. In Henderson County, that grows to 96 percent, Huffman said. Most of the firefighters have full-time jobs away from the department.

Huffman has worked for the City of Athens for 17 years. He’s on the job from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the street department, and is thankful that his supervisors are understanding when he gets called away to a Murchison-area blaze.

Huffman remembers a string of fires along State Highway 31 in September, 2011 between the Henderson County Fair Park Complex and Murchison city limits that took the maximum effort of his department and several neighboring departments to control.

“I was at work. While I was there, I made two phone calls, and had everything lined up for that fire,” Huffman said. “Then I went to my supervisor, and took vacation time to come to the fire. A lot of us have to.”