Bill would ease spending rules on volunteer fire departments ‘restricted’ funds

Bill would ease spending rules on volunteer fire departments ‘restricted’ funds

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

Proposed legislation would make it easier for volunteer fire departments to buy sports drinks like Gatorade and other supplies chiefs say are essential to battling blazes in Alabama summers.

Volunteer fire departments, of which there are dozens around the state, operate on restricted and unrestricted funds. Restricted funds include those from state grants, tax revenue or county appropriations. According to guidance from the Alabama Examiner of Public Accounts, restricted funds expenditures can include the purchase of fire trucks and stations, fire-fighting and communication equipment, training and insurance. 

But restricted funds can’t be spent on food or drink, appliances in a firehouse kitchen or salaries. Instead, those things have to be purchased with private money,  including donations are fundraiser revenues.

“That means they couldn’t purchase those things without raising funds specifically for that purchase,” said Rep. Chip Brown, R-Hollinger’s Island.

Brown’s House Bill 25 would make kitchen equipment allowable restricted fund expenses, along with “the purchase of electrolyte replacement or sports drinks, water, and similar liquid sustenance in any form for use by volunteer firefighters on a fire call or during training exercises in the line of duty.”

Keeping volunteer firefighters hydrated is an essential part of the job and departments should be able to provide necessities if they choose to do so, Brown told Alabama Daily News.

Fire departments must track both restricted and unrestricted fund expenses and misuses or mingling of funds can be flagged by the examiner’s office. 

Being able to use public dollars for drinks and food would ease accounting headaches and simply makes sense, said David Wade Jr. chief of the Grand Bay Volunteer Fire Department. 

His department does have some volunteers that occasionally stay overnight at the station.

Brown’s bill would make it easier for Wade to supply meals for the volunteers. And in the summer, he could provide more sports drinks instead of mostly water because it’s cheaper.

“There is a big confusion on what you can or can’t spend (restricted) money on,” Wade said. 

Brown said multiple volunteer districts cover portions of I-10.

“On some occasions, they’re out there for 24 hours dealing with chemical spills or fires or fatalities … they should have things like Gatorades and water easily provided for them.”