It’s the middle of the night. The house is miles away from the nearest town. The smell of smoke suddenly hits one of the inhabitants. A call is placed to emergency personnel as the family rushes out of the back door – to see their home begin to be engulfed by flames.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, 69 percent of firefighters in the United States are volunteers. Volunteer fire departments are a key part of the emergency response in a rural state like Mississippi.
Volunteer fire departments not only play an important role in home fire suppression and other emergency services, but also in wildland fire suppression in rural Mississippi.
When a wildfire is reported, the local volunteer fire department is often the first on scene to begin containment efforts.
Volunteer fire departments are capable of responding to any issue that city fire departments can. The issue for many of Mississippi’s volunteer fire departments is having adequate funding to purchase new or upgrade existing equipment and safety gear.
“The Mississippi Forestry Commission (MFC) relies on local volunteer fire departments to aid in wildfire suppression, especially in the rural parts of the state,” said Russell Bozeman, MFC state forester. “We support this partnership by helping volunteer fire departments obtain needed trucks, equipment and wildland firefighting gear.”
The MFC offers several grant programs designed to help Mississippi’s volunteer fire departments obtain equipment and supplies needed to fight wildland fires.
The Federal Excess Personal Property (FEPP) Program and Firefighter Property Program (FFP) are administered through an agreement with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service.
Since 1956, the FEPP Program has loaned property to state foresters for the purpose of wildland and rural firefighting. Approximately 70 percent of the property involved in the USDA Forest Service FEPP Program is sub-loaned to local volunteer fire departments.
Through the FFP Program, the MFC obtains excess equipment that is no longer needed by the Department of Defense. The MFC transfers this equipment, through cooperative agreements to Volunteer Fire Departments or other authorized entities. Any community, organized fire district, or department with an assigned or assumed fire suppression responsibility over any portion of the state is eligible to receive Department of Defense FFP Program equipment.
“Last fiscal year, the MFC’s FEPP and FFP programs issued 80 vehicles and 94 other pieces of wildland firefighting equipment – a total estimated value of approximately $10.3 million – to local volunteer fire departments,” Bozeman said. “This is a direct investment back into local communities that will help firefighters fight wildland and rural fires.”
Additionally, the MFC offers the Volunteer Fire Assistance (VFA) Program. Formerly known as the Rural Community Fire Protection Program, the VFA Program provides matching fund grants to eligible rural volunteer fire departments for the purchase of wildland firefighting and personal protection equipment.
During state fiscal year 2018, the MFC awarded 49 grants totaling approximately $207,000 through the VFA Program.
“Mississippi’s volunteer fire departments are instrumental to wildland and rural fire response and suppression,” said Bozeman. “These programs help ensure these departments have the equipment they need to do their job efficiently and effectively.”
For more information about the MFC’s Rural Fire Assistance programs, visit www.mfc.ms.gov/rural-fire-assistance.