Caulfield VFD struggles to make ends meet, starts fundraising campaign
For Ozark County residents facing the terrifying reality of a house fire, local volunteer fire departments are the one line of hope they have. However, as Caulfield VFD chief Shannon Sisney recently told the Times, although the completely volunteer-run departments are strong in dedication and heart, they often lack the funds to acquire the tools they need to adequately fight fires. That kind of dire need recently led Sisney to start a fundraising campaign aimed at raising $10,000 so the Caulfield VFD can to fix a brush truck, replace expired gear, help conduct trainings and support daily operations.
Sisney says Caulfield VFD runs on a budget of about $4,000 to $6,000 per year. However, the largest chunk of this funding pays for insurance, which costs more than $4,000 annually.
“By the time we end our year, we’re lucky to have $400 left. That $400 has to pay for fuel, maintenance on the trucks, training, radio and pager repairs, electric for the station, propane to heat the station and all the other stuff that comes up,” Sisney said.
An increase in the need
Sisney says the department currently has nine volunteer firefighters, six of them medically trained. They all respond to fires, accidents and medical calls on a completely volunteer basis – meaning without any financial compensation.
“We have an awesome group responding to calls now; however, we don’t have reliable trucks for these calls, and calls are increasing,” said Sisney, who became fire chief in August 2017 and has actively served in fire service-related roles since 1999. In January 2017, the Caulfield VFD was called to respond to just six incidents. That number nearly quadrupled a year later, in January 2018, when the department was called to respond to 23 incidents.
“We’ve become very busy, and we haven’t had any calls where we didn’t respond, which had been an issue in the past,” Sisney said.
The main pumper: a sad state of disrepair
When Sisney first posted the fundraising campaign on his Facebook page on Feb. 10, the department was trying to decide what it should do with its main firetruck, a 2009 Freightliner pumper that was in pretty sad shape.
“It has several issues, and more develop each time it’s used. First, it has a power issue. It doesn’t run as it should and has trouble pulling hills and getting above 45 miles per hour. It also has pump issues. The pump is now stopping while we’re pumping water on a fire scene. The truck won’t draft water, which is a way we fill the tank on the truck,” Sisney said in an interview last week. “It also has an air leak on the air brake system, a water leak from the tank that is used to fight fires and an oil leak we just found. The truck is also burning a large amount of fuel. We filled up with fuel after a trailer fire and ran to three other fires, but they were very small, and we used $90 in fuel in between the two fill-ups. That just isn’t right at all.”
Sisney says relying on the truck in the stress of fighting a house fire has been a constant worry.
“It’s to the point that I don’t even want to train with it because I’m afraid it will fail and we won’t have a truck at all,” he said.
Replacing the pumper with two additional trucks
Caulfield VFD mailed ballots to all of its members recently, asking those residents if they believed the department should keep the pumper truck and attempt to repair its many issues, or trade in the pumper truck for two vehicles of equal value. Sisney told the Times the members voted 93-19 to trade in the truck.
The VFD is unsure at this point exactly what trucks it will be replacing the old pumper with, but Sisney said they are currently looking at a Ford F-550 4x4. The truck, which served as a mini rescue pumper, can be used as a pumper, rescue and brush truck and will about any place the firefighters would need it to go. The second truck they are considering is a tanker that would carry water to a fire scene to supply to a pumper, in this case the F-550.
“We would drop a water tank, and the tanker would empty into the tank and then go to get more water. We wouldn’t have to wait on a tanker from another department to come to us, which is usually 30 minutes. We would get the equipment that would help us more than just having one semi-working truck like we do now. We love our truck, and it is one of the nicest in the area; however, it requires too much work for us to be able to handle due to the current condition it is in,” Sisney said.
A donated brush truck and expired gear
The Caulfield VFD also obtained a 1985 Chevrolet 5 1/4-ton truck through the Volunteer Fire Assistance and Federal Excess Property Program, administered through the Missouri Department of Conservation. Although Sisney says he is very thankful for the truck, which they hope to turn into a brush truck for firefighting, it also has some problems, including wiring issues and some bad relays; it also needs new tires, a brush fire skid and a flatbed put on the truck. It also needs lights, a siren and a radio installed.
“This takes money we really don’t have,” Sisney said. He hopes with the donated funds from the fundraising campaign, the department will be able to make these repairs and get the truck into working condition for firefighting needs.
The other main priority for the fire department is to replace the self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), a device worn by firefighters and others to provide breathable air in smoke-filled atmospheres.
“The bottles are good for 10 years, and the newest we have expired in 2005. I tried the SCBAs when I took over [as chief], and they all failed. By failed, I mean that while wearing them, the air just stopped. There was still air in the bottles, but they shut my air supply off. If I would’ve been in a structure fire, this would have been a horrible thing,” he said.
The department’s turnout gear, a term referring to the personal protective clothing and gear used by firefighters in fire situations, expired in 1996, some even before that. Turnout gear usually expires after 10 years, Sisney said. At that point, the components start to break down and may or may not take the heat and other adverse conditions it’s supposed to hold up to while inside a burning structure or area.
“If we were performing an internal attack, where we fight the fire from inside the structure, and the turnouts had started to break down, then the firefighters are going to end up with burns. If it has any exposure to the fire, then this could be even worse,” Sisney said. “It’s not worth the risk if there is no one inside the structure. It’s not safe to use in a fire. I will not let someone use this stuff and enter into a fire,” Sisney said. “I lead in a different way. I won’t ask my firefighters to do something I wouldn’t do, and I will not put them in a situation where it is unsafe.”
How to help
If funds are raised above the amount needed to fix the trucks and replace the safety gear, Sisney says the department will use the remainder of the funds to support daily operations and conduct trainings, so that the firefighters can be better prepared for the calls when they come in.
To find out more or to donate to the Caulfield Volunteer Fire Department, visit https://www.gofundme.com/help-the-caulfield-fire-department. To keep up to date with Caulfield VFD, “like” the Caulfield Membership Fire Department’s Facebook page. To become a member of the Caulfield VFD for a $35 annual due, call 417-719-9911 and follow the automated option to purchase a membership or press 4 to speak with Sisney.