Oklahoma Rural Fire Departments Struggling

Friday, January 3rd 2020, 1:31 pm
By: Erick Payne

Rural fire departments across Oklahoma are struggling to find firefighters.

State lawmakers said the number of people volunteering to serve is on the decline, so they're trying to make it easier for people to join rural departments.

Volunteer firefighters said there's been a shift over the past decade or so, and now, departments in some areas are seeing the impact.

The Rock Volunteer Fire Department near Sand Springs is fortunate.

Chief Charley Pearson said they get plenty of help. After 30 years, he knows how hard it can be to recruit new firefighters.

"What I have seen over the years is people want to get on board, but then when they figure out what it takes to be a volunteer firefighter, they kind of back off a little bit," Pearson said.

One area struggling with attracting volunteers is Eagletown in McCurtain County in far southeastern Oklahoma. It's near the state lines with Arkansas and Texas.

The fire chief there said there was a house fire in the area but there weren't any firefighters available to send.

He said they have begged and pleaded for those who are able to step forward and join the department.

This problem is becoming a trend across the entire country.

Tulsa firefighter and State Representative Stan May said earlier this year 85% of firefighters in Oklahoma are volunteers, which can be a blessing but also a curse.

"We've got vast areas once you get out from the metropolitan areas that still need fire protection, but they don't have the municipality that can afford that," May said.

It's why some state lawmakers pushed new laws through the legislature, trying to get rural departments the staffing they need.

Chief Pearson said things like this help some, but he wishes the state could do more.

"We save citizens a lot of money on their insurance," Pearson said. "For which we save the state of Oklahoma a lot of money by being out here to protect these people and take care of these people."

There are more than 900 mostly-volunteer fire departments in Oklahoma.

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