By Jessica Bruha
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Earlier this month, the Oklahoma Forestry Service — a division of the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry — announced that $200,000 in competitive grants have been awarded to fire departments across Oklahoma.
All five Cleveland County rural departments receive annual operational grants, including Cedar Country, Lexington, Little Axe, Noble and Slaughterville. Additionally, the City of Lexington Fire Department was awarded an 80/20 grant this year.
According to the Oklahoma Forestry Services, Lexington is being awarded almost $2,000 to help cover the cost of the $10,000 construction project this year.
Lexington Fire Chief Jansen Idlett said they are using the money to add training spaces, offices, a bathroom and new kitchen area to their new fire station which the grants also contributed to.
“We built a fire station with that (grant),” Idlett said. “We got about $7,000 off of it two years ago. We get a little bit of it this year, not as much, but we’ll be framing the inside of it (the station) for training spaces and office spaces.”
The Lexington Fire Department has 18 volunteer firefighters and 12 fire apparatuses.
The 80/20 program was funded by the Oklahoma legislature and authorized by Gov. Mary Fallin. Following official notification, fire departments can make eligible purchases and submit receipts for 80 percent reimbursement, according to a press release from the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.
“The Rural Fire 80/20 Grant program provides assistance to departments to fund improvements to their infrastructure and equipment, which improves the community’s ISO rating reducing insurance rates,” Secretary of Agriculture Jim Reese said in a press release. “Funds can be used to purchase firefighting or communications equipment or to build or improve a fire station.”
Little Axe Fire Chief Al Snyder said every little bit of money they receive from the annual operational grant helps because everything in the fire service is expensive.
“It helps us out just because it’s money coming in,” Snyder said. “We operate off a very tight budget year to year, and it’s hard to replace items.”
All firefighters for the Little Axe Fire Department are volunteers, which is common for rural fire departments. Snyder said they have 18 firefighters who carry approximately $7,000 worth of gear.
Little Axe has seven fire apparatuses, and with fuel costs high and replacement parts expensive, Snyder said every little bit of money counts.
Cedar Country administrative officer Roger Wickey said the grant helps them with equipment they work with, keeping up with maintenance on older vehicles or purchasing newer vehicles.
Cedar Country Fire Department also is 100 percent volunteer-based with seven active trucks, one that is being built, and 25 firefighters, Wickey said.
Marsha Blair, county administrator who also works with the Slaughterville Fire Department, said the grants are helpful because they can be used toward any type of cost they have in the department.
“It helps keep the department operating,” Blair said.
Blair said they also use funding sources through their city sales tax, but the grants are helpful and beneficial. By having money available to build more fire stations, it also keeps insurance rates lower, she said.
Slaughterville has 13 fire apparatus and 21 volunteer firefighters.
Noble Interim Fire Chief Bob Hall said their recent grant money was used for equipment repair.
“We’ve been having trouble with one of our tankers. The engine went out, brakes, transmission — anyway, it allowed us to fix up one of our trucks,” Hall said. “We still have one down, but that was just one of the things you can use it for.”
Hall said they tried to purchase a new one, but they didn’t have enough money. The fire department also used the grant money to construct a new kitchen area, he said.
Slaughterville has 12 apparatus, two of which are ambulances. The department has 12 city firefighters and nine volunteer firefighters, he said.
According to the Forestry Service, each rural fire department in the state received $4,473.98 for 2013. With 865 rural fire departments statewide, the total grant money awarded was about $3,870,000.
For a complete list of departments receiving the grants, visit forestry.ok.
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