Rural fire stations hoping for more volunteers

Capitol Bureau

LEONARDVILLE, Kan. (KSNT) – There’s a nationwide push to help get more volunteer firefighters.

There are 16 rural fire stations in Riley county. They serve about 20,000 people in areas outside of Manhattan.

Riley County Fire Chief Pat Collins said the county has about 125 firefighters. But some of the stations are having a hard time finding enough people to volunteer.

“It’s a never ending battle for us to try to keep people round the clock and staff these trucks,” said Collins.

Two stations aren’t currently active because there aren’t enough firefighters there for the surrounding area to rely on them.

Collins said if certain stations don’t get more volunteers, they will have to permanently close.

This is a problem communities across the country are seeing.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, in 2017, 65 percent of the country’s firefighters were volunteers.

A group of lawmakers including Kansas Senator Pat Roberts is pushing for the Volunteer First Responder Housing Act.

Supporters said it would encourage more people to volunteer by providing affordable housing. It would offer loan programs typically reserved for low income people.

“Many communities in Kansas are exclusively protected by volunteer first responders and it’s critical we provide incentives like this to help recruit and retain these volunteers,” said Roberts in a press release.

It’s something that Collins said could help.

“Any kind of an incentive that we can do locally, the state can do, or the federal government can do that helps us support the volunteer fire system or volunteer EMS system or whatever is positive,” Collins said.

Collins said if a fire station is closed, people’s insurance rates could also see a sharp increase.

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