By Victor O'Brien

Killeen Daily Herald

BELTON – Sen. John Cornyn stopped at the city's new fire station Saturday to throw some cold water on a hot topic: wildfires.

The Texas Republican senator reassured Bell he has put pen to paper to get more funding for local agencies.

On April 9, the Texas Forest Service responded to more than 24 fires; that is estimated to be 15 percent of the actual fires that local fire departments put out without Texas Forest Service help.

"We know with the historic drought we're experiencing, we need to depend on firefighters more than we have in the past, which makes the urgency to get resources more important," Cornyn told more than half-dozen Bell County fire chiefs.

During a tour of Belton's Fire Station No. 2 on Sparta Road, Belton's Assistant Fire Chief Bruce Pritchard showed Cornyn a $10,000 thermal imaging camera bought with federal grant money.

Cornyn informed local fire officials about grant opportunities during a speech in front of the Harker Heights' $340,000 Mobile Command Center, purchased with a federal grant. Officials praised the vehicle as an example of how federal grants benefit local counties and cities.

Harker Heights operates and maintains the vehicle, but it assists with fires across the county.

Federal funding also was used to obtain three hazardous material trucks to the Killeen, Temple and Lampasas fire departments that are regional response vehicles throughout Bell, Coryell and Lampasas counties.

In January, President Barack Obama approved $210 million to the ongoing Assistance to Firefighters Grant for fire departments to build or upgrade stations, officials said.

Killeen will open Fire Station No. 8 on Friday, but Killeen Fire Chief Jerry Gardner still hopes for a chunk of the money. Gardner credited a federal grant with funding 18 firefighters since 2006, which allowed him to staff the new station.

"Federal funding assists us in some programs that we do but that we wouldn't be able to do without grant money coming in," Gardner said.

Cornyn's visit came a day after he and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison signed a letter addressed to President Obama Friday supporting Gov. Rick Perry's request for a major disaster declaration for counties affected by recent wildfires that burned more the 100,000 acres in North Texas.

Contact Victor O'Brien at or (254) 501-7468.

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