TAYLOR, Texas - The Avery-Pickett Volunteer Fire Department in Taylor is run strictly on donations. Right now, they are operating on the bare minimum.
"We have a station here with no running water, no bathrooms, this is all we can afford," said Chief John Shelton.
That's why news of their former Fire Chief Billy Hughes allegedly stealing around $360,000 feels like a stab in the back.
"The things you see are paid for by donations. The money he took was money we absolutely needed to survive," said Shelton.
Hughes was named chief in 2015 and recently resigned. A year-long joint investigation between the Taylor Police Department and Texas Rangers revealed he opened an account in the fire department's name before wiring the money to his own account in increments.
"All of this money went into an account and that was labeled Taylor Volunteer Fire Department but Billy Hughes was the only human being that had access to it," said Shelton.
Police said he used the money to pay off personal credit card debt and other personal expenses. The sheer amount of money stolen has generated a ripple effect for many in the Taylor community.
"There is truly no way to articulate how many people he took money from. He took money from federal, state, from you, from me, from other fire departments," said Shelton.
Hughes turned himself in. Now left with just under $20,000 left, the fire department of twelve is scraping by. Other departments such as Humble and Rose Hill donated fire trucks and other equipment in the meantime.
"Often our fuel bills are over $3,000 a month," said Shelton.
"It is unbelievable, the amount. That money could have gone to so many things," said Captain Michelle Flores.
The department changed their name from Taylor VFD to Avery-Pickett earlier this year. Now they hope to earn the public's trust right back.
"The entire mission that we've embarked on, Captain and myself, is to make sure people in this community know that we are there for them and we are not going to take anything from them," said Shelton.
Shelton said if you wish to donate, the best way to do so is to drop by the station with a check or money order. Cash is not accepted. The station is located in the city square directly across from the El Corral Lozano restaurant on W. 2nd Street.