Presidio County to help fund vital improvements for Marfa Volunteer Fire Department 

MARFA — At last Wednesday’s meeting, Presidio County Commissioners Court voted to dedicate American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding for upgrades at the Marfa Fire Station. The $224,000 in grant money will help to expand the facility to better safeguard Marfa’s fire engines and equipment. Per Councilmember Jason Ballman, the City of Marfa has also pledged about $115,000 over the next fiscal year to help bring all of the department’s dreams to fruition as soon as possible — though the budget has yet to be finalized. 

Presidio County has been deliberating over what to do with its ARPA funds over the past year. ARPA is a stimulus program from the Biden administration that aims to help local communities bounce back from economic setbacks as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic — a larger, governmental version of the stimulus checks distributed to American households throughout the pandemic. 

County Judge Cinderela Guevara acknowledged that the challenges faced by the Marfa Volunteer Fire Department were not the only challenges faced by Presidio County residents. The county’s ARPA committee ultimately decided that there were other avenues for addressing some of those other issues — for example, seeking out state revolving funds to address dire water infrastructure problems in South Presidio County. 

The committee’s deliberations have been extensive and difficult. “It was really hard to get on other projects because everything needs to be a priority, especially public safety,” she explained. What made the fire station project appealing to the commissioners was the fact that it was immediately achievable: in April, the city solicited bids for the project, and determined the final cost would be around half a million dollars. Thanks to ARPA, the county was in a position to immediately help make that dream a reality. 

The full project specifications are available online, but mainly involve using the rest of the department’s lot to maximize covered, climate-controlled space. Through the region’s climate extremes, it’s difficult to keep equipment outside and ready-to-use — for example, during a cold Marfa winter, a fire engine outside must be regularly emptied so the water carried inside doesn’t freeze.

To that end, the Marfa Volunteer Fire Department also secured an easement from the city to create a permanent fire lane, ensuring that they’ll be able to enter and exit the facilities as quickly as possible to respond to emergencies. In the wake of major fires like the Rockhouse Fire of 2011 or, more recently, a fire at NAPA Auto Parts and Santa Fe Cabinets in Presidio, it’s clear that stronger emergency departments in one town benefit the whole region. 

Jason Ballmann, a Marfa City Council member who spoke at length at Wednesday’s meeting in support of the county’s decision, was elated. “This is super exciting to me as a partnership between these three entities: the county, the city and the volunteer fire department,” he said. “Each one is bringing something very unique to the table.” 

Kat Kane, a Marfa volunteer firefighter, was thrilled that the city and county had worked together to address the department’s needs. “We’re very grateful and excited for the firehouse improvements, and know it will help us serve the community better,” she said. 

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify that the budget for the upcoming fiscal year has not been finalized.