(LEHIGH, Iowa) — Amid sharp budget cuts to fire departments across the country, one Iowa fire department chief has gone on a hunger strike to make a public plea — his small town fire station is underfunded and needs help.
Lehigh Volunteer Fire Department Chief Kirk Kelley has been drinking only water, muscle milk and chicken broth since June 23. He has since lost 28 pounds, but says he will not stop until nearly $480,000 is raised to build a new firehouse.
“When I first started, I did pass out once,” Kelley told ABC News Wednesday. “I sat down real quick and I stood back up. I got light-headed and I had to sit back down. But I feel pretty good now.”
Kelley said after several failed attempts to get funding and loans for the Lehigh Volunteer Fire Department, he decided to take the extreme method to seek help.
According to a fundraising page set up by Kelley on GoFundMe.org, the fire department serves three nearby towns in a 70-mile radius and needs a bigger station to replace the old and outdated one the crew currently uses.
“Right now all we can handle is four smaller trucks in our station… Our station only has truck space, we don’t have a meeting/training room, kitchen/dining area, and we only have one restroom that gets shared by men and women,” the page reads.
The firefighters at the Lehigh Fire Department are all volunteers, and they respond to up to 70 calls each year.
Kelley said 50 years ago, the only task the fire department had to do was fighting fires. Now, they are responsible for responding to medical emergencies, stabilizing patients, providing water rescue and other rescues.
“There are 17 firefighters in our station, all of them are EMT trained,” Kelley said. “They don’t get paid at all. They do this out of their hearts.”
“I get paid $125 a month because I’m the chief, but I just give it back to the fundraiser to keep things going,” Kelley said.
“One day, we had three calls, two at the same time,” Kelley added. “That was a busy day for us.”
Right now, Kelley has only raised around $5,000, which is far short of his goal of $480,000.
Kelley, who works as an electrician, said his mother is a little worried about his health, but his wife has been supportive.
“My wife knows that I’m hard-headed so she just lets me do whatever I want to do,” Kelley chuckled. “My 3-year-old daughter doesn’t really know what is going on. She is always asking: ‘Why is daddy not eating?’”
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