The Indiana Department of Natural Resources announced Wednesday that it has awarded over $351,000 to 80 rural and volunteer fire departments.
The funds were made available through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service and will go toward training, installation of dry hydrants and the purchase of equipment. Each department received between $1,250 and $5,000, with the DNR agreeing to match the funds they allocate for the project.
The DNR chose departments based on population density, area of public land protected and wildfire reporting to the Fire Control Headquarters.
According to Assistant State Fire Coordinator Mark Huter, small volunteer departments are responsible for most fire suppression in rural areas, and they do their work mostly independent of the DNR.
“I'd say the volunteer fire departments take care of more than 95% of the fires that I hear about,” Huter said. “They call us when they are having a lot of problems and they have three or four different volunteer fire departments working on it, and it's gotten to the point that they're either fatigued or they need some extra help. A lot of the fires we don't hear about until the next day.”
Departments applied for funding back in January, but Huter said it’s taken longer this year for the state to receive federal funds for distribution. Of 86 applicants, 80 were awarded grants. Huter said those that didn’t either received the grant last year or didn’t submit a project proposal that met the requirements.
Once funding has been given to the departments, it’s up to them to put it toward the projects listed in their grant applications without state oversight.
“It's tough to track what happens to the money for their projects after it's been awarded, but we hope that they do use that for their rural communities,” Huter said.
There are 831 volunteer fire departments in the state, according to the Indiana Volunteer Firefighters Association.
A full list of the departments that won grants as well as the amount awarded is available here.