Friday, November 6, 2009

Senator Gumm's "Senate Minute" Column for Oct. 30-Nov. 5 - Firefighters Are Heroes; Volunteer Fire Departments Vital

DURANT, Okla.Hello again, everybody! We all learn as children that October is Fire Prevention Month; as October gives way to November, fire safety is no less important.

Throughout October, school children were given tours of fire stations and learn lessons on how to prevent fires and what to do during a fire. During the tours, children – and often their parents – get to see a small glimpse of what it takes to be a firefighter, the commitment these men and women make to all of us.

November has its own importance in the battle against fire. Volunteer fire departments across rural Oklahoma will get the operational checks funded by the Legislature. In my entire Senate district, only Durant has a full-time fire department; all the others are all-volunteer or combination fire departments.

In fact, most of the area of this state is served by volunteer fire departments. They largely depend on benefit suppers, craft fairs, membership dues and donations. During the great Winter Fires of 2005, volunteer fire fighters across Oklahoma were on the front lines fighting those fires, protecting lives and property.

Those fires were a wake-up call to our state, reminding even those who live in metropolitan areas of the importance of rural volunteer fire departments. The fires also gave those of us who support volunteer fire departments an opportunity to increase funding for this critical program.

When I was first elected to the Senate seven years ago, every rural fire department received a $2,300 check to help cover operational costs. It was not nearly enough.

In the past seven years, we have been able to more than double that amount to an annual operational check of $5,100 for every volunteer fire department in the state. This operational money helps with the costs of simply being ready to protect our families, homes and businesses.

While still not enough to cover all the costs of these fire departments, it is a huge help. Other programs initiated by those of us in the Legislature who believe in rural fire protection have helped purchase new trucks for dozens of rural fire departments, including many across Atoka, Bryan, Coal, Johnston and Marshall counties.

Volunteer fire departments get just about the biggest “bang for the buck” of anything funded with our tax dollars. Every dollar we spend on rural fire department helps keep our families safe, keeps fire insurance rates as low as possible. In short, these dollars save us money and save lives – and it is a program I will always support.

As we end the month when we are reminded about fire safety, it is a great time for all of us to tell firefighters – volunteer and full-time – that we appreciate what they do for us. Every firefighter is a hero, and we should always stand behind them – because they are always there for us.

Thanks again for reading the “Senate Minute,” have a great week, and may God bless you all.

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