Living in a rural community has its advantages; peace and quiet, a more reasonable cost of living, and friendly neighbors who pull for each other in times of need. Rural America seems to have community values that sometimes can feel lost in other places, and no one embodies those values like a volunteer firefighter. They are the brave men and women who go above and beyond to protect others at great personal risk, and they do their best with what limited resources a rural volunteer force can muster.
In October 2020, Craig Ward, a volunteer firefighter and full-time sheriff’s deputy in Gosper County, Nebraska reached out to Community Programs Loan Specialist David Fulton, with USDA Rural Development in Kearney. The issue: his department, the Gosper County Rural Fire District, had use of two loaned grass fire trucks from the Forest Service, but they were 1985 and 1987 models with an increasing number of mechanical problems. To make matters worse, every time they broke down or needed servicing, the trucks had to be sent to Mead, Nebraska at a distance of 205 miles away, increasing the amount of time they were out of service.
Being a volunteer firefighter himself, Fulton understood immediately the challenges Ward and his teammates were facing. They needed a reliable vehicle of their own and they needed it now. Fulton processed the application for a Community Facilities Disaster Grant immediately and the funds were obligated in January of 2021, but the battle wasn’t won. Like so many other things, the new grass fire truck was back ordered due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it wouldn’t arrive for more than a year later.
Finally, in February of 2022, the 2021 Chevrolet 3500 arrived, and it was the right color, fire engine red, but the department still needed to add a flatbed, water tank, and pump, then they would finally have a new grass fire truck to serve the more than 1,500 residents of Gosper County. Together, with the $11,500 federal grant they received, the fire district contributed $21,408.00 of their own funds to complete the project.
According to Acting Fire Chief Dustin Clouse, his department has had 27 pages, or fire calls, in the last three weeks, higher than a normal year, which he attributes to high winds and drought conditions. He said the increased capability of adding a third truck is certainly welcome but added that the truck is special to the fire district for another reason.
“Fire Chief Darren Krull was the person finishing the build-out on the new truck, which was not complete on April 7, 2022, when he was killed in a vehicle crash while responding to a fire. We came together to finish the build-out the night before his funeral. So, this truck is very special to us for that reason. It reminds us of him.”
Fulton said he is proud of the work he and his team did to get the Community Facility Grant application processed for Gosper County. With an area of 463 square miles, they now have a grass fire truck dedicated to their needs 24/7. He hopes other departments will reach out as well.
“USDA RD serves rural America, so we understand rural fire districts and rural issues. Come to us, we’re here for you,” said Fulton.