Rep. Purcy Walker and Rural Fire Coordinator, Mark Gardner
A group of area fire departments recently gathered in honor of Mark Gardner, Rural Fire Coordinator with the South Western Oklahoma Development Authority (SWODA).
The event was hosted by the Canute Fire Department and was attended by representatives from the Elk City Fire Department, Foss Fire Department, Sentinel Fire Department, State Department of Oklahoma Forestry Department as well as Representative Purcy D. Walker, Senator Tom Ivester and Representative Todd Russ.
“We really appreciate all Mark has been able to do for us,” said Lynn Chervenka, Canute Fire Department Assistant Chief. “Without his help, we wouldn’t have all of the equipment we need.”
Each department brought trucks to display that were acquired through assistance from SWODA’s Rural Fire Defense program.
Gardner, who has worked in fire service for over 29 years, has used his experience over the last eight years to serve the 68 fire departments within SWODA’s region by:
• Advising departments on Insurance Service Office and Commercial Risk Service requirements, which are necessary to lower insurance rates.
• Organizing and developing new fire departments or districts in areas currently receiving poor or nonexistent fire protection services.
• Helping to establish mutual aid agreements between area fire organizations.
• Facilitating cooperative agreements with Oklahoma Forestry Services, which provides equipment for departments to use through the Federal Excess Property Program (FEPP).
• Making departments aware of grants available through the Department of Homeland Security, Oklahoma Forestry Division and other organizations, and assisting in the application process.
“The 68 departments in SWODA’s rural fire district consist of 900 firefighters, both paid and volunteer. During the last fiscal year, these firefighters responded to 4,573 calls,” said Gardner, “and I’m glad I’ve been able to help them get the equipment they need to do their job more effectively and safely.”
Counties served by SWODA’s Rural Fire Defense Program include Beckham, Custer, Greer, Harmon, Jackson, Kiowa, Roger Mills and Washita Counties. Often times, when wild fires arise, these departments will travel up to 100 miles to provide mutual aid to other departments in and out of their area.
“Urban legislators don’t always understand the need for fire assistance in rural areas…it’s a fight for that in the budget every year, and it’s the least we can do to get the funding they need to provide the proper equipment for their departments,” said Senator Ivester.
SWODA was recently able to renew the Rural Fire Defense Contract, which will help to insure area fire departments continue to receive assistance when needed.
Fore more information about the Rural Fire Defense Program, visit www.swoda.org/rfd.