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Manpower Hard To Come By For Rural Volunteer Fire Departments

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(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Joel Thomas
Joel is an Emmy Award winning journalist with more than 15 year...
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PALO PINTO COUNTY (CBS 11 NEWS) – There are two things the volunteers fighting the raging fires in Palo Pinto County need desperately: rain and more firefighters.

The bad economy has made it difficult to keep the volunteer fire departments comprising most of the rural fire fighting capability staffed.

In Parker County’s emergency management operations center Wednesday, volunteers from several small towns gathered before heading out to fight fires in Palo Pinto and Wise Counties. The priority is finding enough people to help fight fires in neighboring counties while still having enough people to protect their own.

“Volunteers are hard to come by anyway,” said Parker County Fire Marshal Shawn Scott. “But everybody steps up when there’s a need and the need is there.”

The problem is that in many areas the manpower, like the equipment, is donated.

And in this economy fewer people are able to take off hours from work to battle blazes like these.

“You’re asking the ordinary citizen to be a volunteer to go out and risk his life and put these fires out and it’s actually money coming out of his pocket to go to the fire station and spend his time doing this for the community,” said Morris

White is president of a recently formed emergency district near Weatherford that now allows them to raise some tax money to finance equipment.

“How many of their family’s birthday parties have they missed?” asked Morris’ wife Judy. “They may have a child turning one and they’re not there. They’re fighting the fire.”

It’s not just the big fires like those that have recently scorched land and destroyed homes in Palo Pinto County. Volunteers have to spend time maintaining equipment, training and being on call.

They’re sacrifices many can’t afford.

Some departments report they have only half the people they need.

“They’re having trouble,” Morris White said.

Which is why often just finding the manpower is half the battle against fires.

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