Rural Fire Departments Struggle With Balancing Budgets

Tuesday, July 10th 2012, 6:04 pm
By: Craig Day

After a couple of rough years for wildfires, some rural volunteer firefighters are concerned not only about fighting fires, but also budget battles.

It's been tough on Oklahoma's rural firefighters and their equipment.

In Ochelata, a pumper truck is out of service and the volunteer department will be out a lot of money in repairs.

"It's been hard on our trucks running constantly," said Lonnie Ingram, of the Ochelata Fire Department.

Lonnie Ingram said the $6,000 to fix the transmission is about 25% of the annual budget.

Balancing budgets is becoming just as challenging as fighting fires.

"Scraping the bottom, getting by—I think that's the way all of them are. We are just getting by," Ingram said.

Chief Todd Owens, in nearby Vera, whose department has an annual budget of just $12,000, is worried about the future of dozens of rural departments.

"Eventually, we're going to run out of money," Owens said. "And doors are going to start shutting on departments across the state."

The state funds a few thousand dollars to rural departments, annually, but the rest comes from fundraisers and subscription dues.

"They're not paying their dues, therefore we have no operating money, and without the money we can't buy the gas, we can't keep the equipment running," Owens said.

The fees in Vera are $60, which Owens said could mean a savings of ten times that much on lower home insurance rates, if departments have the money they need.

"We don't think about the fire department or EMS until we need them. Then we think a lot about them," Owens said.

In Vera, folks can voluntarily pay the annual subscription in 12 payments on their electric bill.

It helps with budgeting, but Owens says too many people are still not getting the message of the importance of the dues.

"It's getting very serious," Owens said.

It's serious, because there are too many fires, too little cash, and too few people willing to help ease the financial burden.