FRIO COUNTY, Texas --
A.J. Bills has spent just six months as a volunteer fire fighter with the town of Moore, just south of Devine, but already feels a close connection. "The fire department's been a family to me," said Bills, who's originally from Quanah but moved to Moore a few years after a short stint in the U.S. Army. "They have supported me in every way possible."
After a few months of training, Bills finally went on his first call with Moore VFD, which presented a few butterflies that quickly disappeared.
"If I can be deployed, go overseas and come back in one piece, I can go out on a fire and come back in one piece," said Bills.
Last week, after sitting in on a discussion with senior department members about recent fundraising efforts falling short, he decided to give a little back.
"He's been going anywhere and everywhere beyond the limits to find people to donate stuff for our auction and anything we may need," said assistant chief Preston Hutchings.
Bills is organizing a barbecue fundraiser and silent auction for July 9, hoping to raise as much as $5,000 to help the 44-year old department.
"Just that little bit of money, it's remarkable what it can do for us," said Hutchings.
"That's a pipe dream but we're going to try," said Bills. "Being out here in the middle of nowhere, we've got no real help."
Moore's not the only community feeling the pain. Several nearby volunteer fire departments are also seeing their fuel bills double or triple as costs rise along with an increase in fires. "Just to fill our two small fuel tanks, one being gasoline, one being diesel, it's $1,700 to fill those two," said John Morales, vice president of nearby Bigfoot VFD, which formed just three years ago.
"If we're lucky, we might get six months' use out of them but it all depends how many fires we have and how far we have to go because we also do mutual aid. We may be down in Dilley or Pearsall or Castroville. We never know where the call is going to be from."
Bigfoot's big annual fundraiser is in September. They had one last month to make ends meet. "We raised about $2,300 but that is gone in buying fuel and tire repairs," said Morales.
"If we can't pay for the fuel, what can we do?" asked Bills.
In addition to fuel, Hutchings said the department also needs new batteries for one of its tanker trucks, along with new firefighter gear. The department would also like to eventually finish an extension to the station, which has been a slow work in progress.
"We rely on it a lot because we'd like to get more gear. New gear because a lot of the gear we have is not in good enough condition to fight house fires or anything like that," said Hutchings.
The Moore Barbecue fundraiser is set for July 9 at Our Bar at 4406 FM 462 East in Moore. Barbecue plates will cost $5 for adults, $3 for kids ages 10 to 17, and $2 for kids under 10-years-old.
For more information or to donate items for the barbecue and silent auction, you can contact A.J. Bills at (210) 247-8352 or (830) 665-4444.
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