Members of the Senate Interim Study on Rural Fire Departments met this week to discuss issues regarding rural fire defense.
Sen. Mark Allen said the Interim Study was requested to give Senate members a better understanding of the needs and challenges faced by Oklahoma’s rural fire departments. Allen noted that as numerous wildfires have threatened rural areas in the current period of extreme drought, lawmakers must be aware of our firefighters’ operational needs.
“We want to be certain rural fire departments have access to the resources they need to keep our communities safe,” said Allen, R-Poteau. “Our firefighters place themselves in danger to protect the lives and property of Oklahomans, and we are grateful for their efforts. As our rural population continues to expand, providing for rural fire defense must remain a priority for the Legislature.”
Allen noted the size of the wildfires battled by rural fire departments this year has stressed a need for improved coordination between agencies and neighboring fire departments. In many instances, fires have been so large as to require the response of multiple rural departments, which may lack the resources and technology needed to effectively coordinate their efforts. In some cases, fuel costs alone have stretched the resources of fire departments to their limit.
While the Legislature has maintained funding for rural fire defense, grants are also a critical source of funding for rural fire departments. Allen said it was important that rural fire departments seek all available grant assistance, and that agencies and the Legislature must continue working to ensure departments are aware of all grant opportunities. Fire Management Assistance Grants available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency allow up to 75 percent reimbursement of expenses, Allen added.
“We want to help our departments recoup these costs in every way we can,” Allen said. “We will continue examining the issue to consider how we can best assist our rural fire departments.”