Earlier this month, The New York Times ran an article, The Disappearing Volunteer Firefighter. The article underscores how important volunteer firefighters are to Oklahoma. Ten of the 11 councils of governments in Oklahoma house rural fire coordinators.
Oklahoma’s Rural Fire program was established in the early 1980s. Today, it helps ensure fire protection for the state’s rural regions. It establishes new fire departments where needed, assists all fire departments with equipment needs, grants, training, pumper service testing, insurance rate reductions, hydrant program and equipment specifications.
Recently, Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) announced that the U.S. Department of Defense to fully and permanently restore the DOD surplus equipment programs that provide state and local agencies with surplus vehicles and equipment.
Here is an excerpt from The New York Times article:
There are still more than twice as many volunteers as career firefighters. But the number of volunteers has dropped by around 11 percent since the mid-1980s, while the number of career firefighters has grown more than 50 percent, according to the National Fire Protection Association. The allure has diminished because fund-raising now takes up roughly half the time most volunteers spend on duty. It’s also harder to fit in volunteer work. The rise in two-income households often means that there is no stay-at-home parent to run things so the other can dash off for an an emergency. Urbanization and the aging of the rural population are taking their toll as fewer young people are available to replace firefighters who retire.
Federal, state and local officials would like to attract new volunteer recruits. The stakes are particularly high because volunteers save not only lives but money — more than $139.8 billion annually for local governments, according to the fire protection association. The time and training needed to become a certified firefighter have also increased. Federal standards enacted to save firefighters’ lives have unintentionally created a barrier for volunteer service: It now takes hundreds of hours to be certified, and new firefighters often must cover the cost of training.
Oklahoma’s rural fire coordinators receive support and assistance from Oklahoma Forestry Services, a division of the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.