Leaders in the Oklahoma House of Representatives on March 22 introduced a plan to increase support for rural firefighters and restore the resources and capabilities of departments. The state Senate on the same day proposed its own rural fire protection plan.
A key feature of the House plan nearly doubles operational grants for rural fire departments. The full House will vote on the plan contained in Senate Bill 1190 next week.
Under the plan, rural fire departments would also receive operational grants in a lump sum payment at the beginning of each year, rather than on a monthly basis. And the House plan also addresses other areas including equipment and emergency costs.
“I’ve experienced these fires in my hometown, and I’ve seen the cost and devastation they have caused,” said Speaker Todd Hiett (R-Kellyville). “With the recent rain I’m cautiously optimistic that we may be past the worst of the wildfire season in most parts of the state. We’ve provided funds for fire departments in recent weeks, and now is a good time to assess future needs for rural firefighters.”
Less than a month ago, legislative leaders agreed to fund $3.6 million for the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture to offset the costs of fighting wildfires since November 1. House leaders said they want to build on those funds.
“I’ve traveled across the state, visiting the wildfire incident command post and talking to firefighters on the ground,” said Rep. Curt Roggow (R-Enid), chair of the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Natural Resources and Regulatory Services. “The wildfires have taken their toll, and we’re committed to helping the heroes that are fighting to protect our state. It’s clear the needs of rural fire departments have been neglected for many years by past legislatures. We are changing that by making rural firefighters a priority.”
Roggow said House leaders would advance several goals for rural fire departments as legislative leaders work to hammer out an agreement on the entire state budget.
One proposal increases operational grants used by departments for costs such as utilities and fuel. Last year House leaders advanced the biggest increase for operational grants since 1998. Roggow said the House will push for another substantial increase this year, from the current $2,774 per department to $5,000 per department for a total of more than $2 million additional statewide. Under the House plan, the grants would also be paid to departments in a lump sum at the beginning of each year.
Another proposal would fund equipment replacement and repair: Roggow said House leaders would work to allocate $2 million statewide to replace and repair ruined or broken-down equipment in rural fire departments.
Roggow also said he’s asking Department of Agriculture officials to increase the cap on reimbursement amounts that rural fire departments can apply for from the department’s extraordinary fire cost recovery fund.
Source: Oklahoma House of Representatives
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