Saving Lives: K-State Helps Rural Fire Departments

Small Kansas communities are benefiting from a fire truck and equipment program offered through the Kansas Forestry Service at Kansas State University.

The Kansas Forestry Service, which is one of five state forestry agencies in the nation housed at a land-grant university, issues trucks and equipment through the Federal Excess Personal Property program and the FireFighter Property Program.

“These programs are a very good example of how K-State serves and engages with the citizens of Kansas,” said Eric Ward, excess property manager and fire planning specialist with the Kansas Forestry Service. “Along with free trucks, we provide screening, training and administrative oversight, so these programs embody Kansas State University’s land-grand mission of providing direct service to Kansas citizens.”

The forestry service receives used trucks and equipment from Fort Riley and other military sites, completes any necessary repairs, and issues them to departments in need of resources. It has provided fire trucks, rescue tools, protective clothing and medical equipment to communities across Kansas. Some of the communities receiving resources this year include Ashland, Beloit, Bennington, Conway Springs, Council Grove, Effingham, Fredonia, Gem, Girard, Horton, Marquette, Savonburg, Towanda, Wakefield, Waterville and many more.

About 50 trucks are issued by the Kansas Forestry Service each year. Each truck would cost about $500,000-$600,000 if purchased new from a manufacturer. Ward said many small fire departments have annual budgets of $2,000-$3,000.

“Our programs give communities fire protection they wouldn’t have otherwise,” Ward said. “Larger towns have enough taxes to fund their equipment, but for a rural community with a limited tax base, these programs are often the difference between having a fire department or not.”

The equipment is also potentially lifesaving for those who respond to emergency calls. The programs supply protective clothing and defibrillators, which are critical because heart attacks are one of the leading causes of death for firefighters.

“The cheapest defibrillators are about $1,500,” Ward said. “We offer them for free because having one can make a life-or-death difference.”

Fire departments qualify for the programs by submitting reports to the Office of the State Fire Marshal; completing a memorandum of agreement with the agency; and agreeing to paint the truck a non-military color and add a tank and pump within six months.

Ward said most fire departments are so grateful to receive any trucks or equipment that they fulfill those requirements immediately.

“The fire chiefs are very appreciative of the program,” Ward said. “Some are repeat customers who come back to us over and over. Without this provision, they wouldn’t be able to continue protecting their communities. Thanks to these programs, they can keep serving and protecting Kansas citizens for years to come.”

The Kansas Forest Service is part of the horticulture and natural resources department in Kansas State University’s College of Agriculture.

Story by: Tiffany Roney / Kansas State University