Why do we pay dues?

Have you ever wondered why we pay dues?  The fire department is just like the ambulance or police, funded by taxes, right?  While this is true in most cities, in the rural areas the situation is quite different.  Most of this article is somewhat generic

I think first some history.  Many fire departments in rural areas were started by neighbors making large donations of equipment, buildings (old barns for example).  Some fire trucks were home-made by installing a water pump and old tank on the back of an old farm truck.  In fact, some trucks in service today are still made that way.

2 house built tanker trucks and a mini pumper. [Credit: Dustin Kessler]

The 2 Morrisville trucks on the left are nearly identical, built in house primarily by Nathaniel McKnight.  They consist of Freightliner tractors aquired as surplus from the US Army through Missouri Department of Conservation.  The water tanks are retired fuel tanks.  The trucks frames were stretched, trimmed, painted and had water pumps and hydraulic dump tank racks installed in house.  The truck on the right is a commercially built mini-pumper.

The money all came from individual donations.  There were no taxes, and currently, as is still the case in much of rural America, there still aren’t. This stuff doesn’t operate for free, and while there are usually some big donors, as areas grew it took more than just the handful of farmers in the area contributing some time and extra materials.

Fast forward to today, the department that covered a few hundred families now covers a few thousand families.  Equipment costs money to maintain, and the more it runs the more it costs.  Trucks have to be kept in heated buildings so water doesn’t freeze.  Yet, there is still no tax revenue.  If you pay taxes to your fire department, you should not have a membership fee.

Different departments work in different ways, but most states allow departments to bill for their services.  Some departments bill via taxes, so everyone pays for the protection that is available, while some departments bill only for the services rendered.  If the people in the area have not voted a tax to support the fire department, usually the latter is the only option.

Some things are specific to your state or locality, but in general a structure fire with a few trucks and a dozen or more firefighters could run one to two thousand dollars.  A car wreck could vary from a few hundred to a more than a thousand dollars.  Even falling out of a tree or getting sick and calling 911 for medical help can be a few hundred dollars even before getting in the ambulance.  Nobody likes to be surprised with big bills like that.

Additionally, it is very challenging for departments to operate on unknown budgets, and it’s not good to depend on emergencies so that we can afford to put fuel in the trucks, maintain the stations, and train people to operate them. With either funding source most rural fire departments in Missouri are still staffed solely by volunteers. So, membership is mutually beneficial.  With the support of your membership there will be no bill for any call that should occur at your address or vehicle.

See how dues are collected!

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