PEMBROKE, Ky. - It's a struggle that could put your safety at risk: volunteer fire departments trying to answer calls with old and inefficient equipment.
But one volunteer crew has been finding a way around their tight budget. The Fairview Fire Department in Pembroke, Kentucky has been taking in just $15,000 a year from the county, through fundraisers and from locals who choose to pay dues.
“We’re a poor department,” said volunteer Chief Paul Van Gotum, “we've never had a lot of money and we've always took hand-me-downs.”
Two of their vehicles date back to the 90’s. Their pumper truck was built in the 80’s. And you'll never guess when one of their main water hoses was made.
“'73,” Van Gotum said, reading the label, “and it's an old burlap hose and it really needs to be in a museum somewhere.”
But in the past two years everything changed. With a little creativity and Van Gotum working 20 hours a week on paperwork and grant writing, the state and federal government multiplied their budget five to ten times.
“The boots fit almost like athletic shoes they're more comfortable to wear than my shoes,” said volunteer Kyler Weatherford, proudly holding up his news pants and boots.
The department handed down the hand-me-downs and bought 20 sets of state-of-the-art gear. Now they’re turning heads of other departments.
“They're like oh y’alls gear looks so nice! You get those type of compliments,” Weatherford said.
They'll get to replace the 70’s era hose with $60,000 dollars worth of hoses.
“All this stuff right here is going to make our job fighting fires five times easier,” Van Gotum said.
And where five to six people used to show up for meetings, now up to 35 have been walking through the door.
“They know that they're going to get good equipment now,” said Van Gotum. He said no one wants to volunteer for a department with substandard gear.
In a town where they're responsible for 3,000 homes, it’s a way the chief has been able to make sure his men and women are safe.
“We’re all a family, were all brothers and sisters here,” he said.
So they can answer the call whenever they're needed.
Last year Fairview received a $127,000 grant. This year they received one for $76,000. As part of the deal, the fire department had to pay $7,000 and $3,800, respectively.
With a department that is 100 percent volunteer, they said they will continue to apply as long as the money is there for the taking.