HILLSBORO, Mo. – A fire at a local food pantry almost cost the Hillsboro community a life-saving resource Tuesday morning. The close call serves as a reminder of how vital their fire department is, which currently has a shortage of workers.

Around 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, the Hillsboro food pantry caught fire.

“That could be my house, that could be your house, or anybody’s in the community, so that’s scary,” said Jeff Hoese, a Hillsboro resident.

No one was hurt, but the wind carried a spark from a nearby incinerator to pallets that caught fire, damaging the outside, roof, and attic.

“Within two minutes, they were here and put it out; if they were here in three or four minutes, it would’ve been gone,” said Hillsboro Mayor Buddy Russell.

The fire threatened hundreds of the most vulnerable.

“From the pandemic, the last couple years, life is different, things have changed,” Russell said. “There’s so many people that need food and rely on this.”

Thankfully, the fire department was just down the street, and they were able to put out the blaze quickly, leaving very little damage. However, amid a worker shortage, firefighters are concerned that others in the future might not be so lucky.

With only 14 full-time staff, roughly half of whom are funded by a federal grant that runs out next year, the fire department is suffering from a severe staffing shortage that might get worse if action isn’t taken.

“We’re running 1,354 calls last year with only two guys out of this engine house and two out of our other,” said Chief Brian Gaudet with the Hillsboro Fire Protection District. “It’s a huge load on our firefighters, and it’s not safe for our community either.”

If voters approve a 35-cent tax increase in April, it will raise more than $520,000, enough to keep six people employed.

Otherwise, layoffs will be imminent.

“We are providing the best protection that we can,” Gaudet said. “We have a lot on our plate.”