BEDFORD COUNTY, Va. -

Firefighters have a lot of tools at their disposal, but one of their most important supplies is the clothing they wear when battling flames.

"It protects us from the extreme heat inside a house fire," said Brandon Cocke, chief of the Big Island Volunteer Fire Department.

The insulated jackets and pants are known as "turnout gear."

The National Fire Protection Association recommends the garments be replaced every ten years.

Cocke says most of his department's gear has already expired.

"In May of 2012, this gear according to the NFPA should have been taken out of service," explained Cocke, pointing to a label on one of his jackets.

The material on some items is frayed and coming apart.

"As the chief it makes me wonder if my guys are really safe," Cocke said.

The need is not unique to Big Island.  All 12 of Bedford County's volunteer agencies need new clothing and much more.

At least seven fire trucks in the county are more than 20 years old.  Replacing just one will cost around $500,000.

"We can't spend half a million dollars on a fire truck, when there are other more pressing needs," said Ryan Burnette, a lieutenant with the Forest Volunteer Fire Department.

For the last ten years, the Bedford County Board of Supervisors has given each volunteer fire company $34,600.

Volunteers say that amount barely covers routine expenses, like fuel.

"Upkeep and maintenance has increased," said Eric Shell, chief of the Hardy Volunteer Fire Department.  "The cost of every aspect of fire fighting has increased, but our funding has stayed the same."

To complicate matters, Bedford's firefighters say they're now battling a new money problem.

Starting in July the county plans to give each fire company a flat payment of $25,000 annually, plus $100 for every call they answer.

Volunteers say the change will make planning ahead impossible.

"You can't budget a certain amount of money when you don't know whether that funding is going to be there," said Burnette.

To make up for shortfalls, fire fighters are trying to get money from other sources.

They've applied for grants to replace some equipment, like the air tanks firefighters use to breathe.

Individual departments are holding fundraisers to pay for basic needs, but people aren't giving as much as they did even a few years ago.

If they don't get more funding from the county, some firefighters worry their ability to adequately protect the community will be effected.

"We'll still answer the call, it just may a different way than what we're accustomed to or what we've been trained to do," said Cocke.