Wichita Falls Fire Department turns to federal grant help to hire more firefighters

WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL) — Two years ago, the Wichita Falls Fire Department applied for a grant to help hire firefighters but did not receive the grant.

Now, they are looking for help again as strains in the department continue.

"The evolution of the fire safety for our citizens is moving forward, not backward," Wichita Falls Councilor At-Large Bobby Whiteley said. "And we're stagnant."

In an effort to reinforce the Wichita Falls Fire Department, councilors voted to apply for an over $2.1 million federal grant to hire firefighters at their meeting on Tuesday, April 2.

"Nine firefighters over a three-year period. This would help us with overtime," Fire Chief Donald Hughes said. "It'll help us with our state and federal mandated 'Two-in, two-out,' which is in the operation that we have: for two people inside, we have to have two people outside."

Stations 3 and 4 are examples. Both stations must be called when responding to comply with the two-in, two-out rule.

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Additional hires would make it easier to comply with the rule, according to Wichita Falls Professional Firefighters Association President Al Vitolo.

"We stand for firefighter safety," Vitolo said. "Adding people to the shift, adding guys out on the street makes it safer. There's study after study from the National Institute of Safety and Science and Technology, the International Fire Chiefs Association, all have shown more people on fire trucks makes it safer."

In 2017, the department had over 9,700 calls for service. In 2023, over 14,000.

Hughes and Vitolo said calls for support outside city limits also increased and put a strain on the department.

"We help others. We don't have a lot of help coming in to help us," Hughes told councilors.

"This is an important time for us. It's time for this to happen," Vitolo said.

Regardless of the outcome, Whiteley is determined to create these jobs in budget talks.

"My opinion that some of our overtime dollars that we spend is because we're not adequately staffed," Whiteley said.

The WFFD is applying for over $2 million in grant funds to adequately staff the department to continue its service to citizens.

Hughes told councilors the department should know by July 31 whether they received the grant. The grant would be for three years with no match from the city.

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