Dozens of North Zulch residents gathered Monday night to show support of the newly-reorganized volunteer fire department and offer their assistance.
The department – which does not have 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, recently suffered a big blow when former chief David Douglas and his wife Misti, who served as the department’s secretary and treasurer, resigned in the wake of allegations that thousands of dollars were reported missing. Texas Rangers are investigating, and the subject of the missing funds was not discussed in depth at Monday’s meeting, although several community residents noted that they’ve “been lied to.”
New Chief Harold Sapp and Assistant Chief Tony Clay said they are changing the department’s processes and welcome any community member to open the department’s books and review their finances.
“Our goal is to handle y’all’s money in the proper way,” Clay said.
“It hit me like a ton of bricks,” the assistant chief added, addressing how he found out that proper checks and balances were not previously in place. “It wasn’t just your money. It was my money too. What was happening wasn’t working.”
Residents voiced their support of the department’s new leadership but emphasized that they’re not inclined to write checks if they don’t know where they’ll be going.
“We want it done right,” said North Zulch resident Wyona Ballard. “When we donate our money, we want it to stay here. We want it to fund our community’s protection.”
Since the department reorganized last month, they have split the positions of secretary and treasurer, which are now designated to Amber Alewine and Rosa May, respectively. The department will now have three meetings per month and hold a public business meeting for 15 minutes prior to every training meeting.
“We’ve asked for a person in the community to come in and do an audit on us,” Clay said. “We’re double checking ourselves. This fire department is your fire department. We’re just here to run it for you.”
Several residents were curious about the upcoming chili cookoff, set for 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Feb. 11 at the fire station on Fifth Street.
One community resident encouraged his neighbors to attend the fundraiser.
“North Zulch Fire Department is about to go in a whole different direction,” he said. “You’re going to have success. You’re going to turn things around, and you’re going to have the support of the community.”
Sapp said the department, currently staffed with 12 volunteer members and largely boosted with equipment from neighboring departments such as Normangee, is seeking new members.
“It doesn’t matter how old or how young you are, we’ll find something you can do,” he said. “The main thing we need is support.”