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Funds low at area fire departments

Some area rural fire departments are struggling to find funding to replace equipment and structures.

The Dickinson Rural Fire Department is trying to come up with $180,000 to replace 21 air packs that expire in a year, said Gary Kostelecky, who is on the department's board of directors.

"It's one of the basic pieces of equipment that the firemen need because getting into the smoke and whatever, you need to be able to breath," he said. "Equipment and everything is getting so expensive nowadays."

Andy Paulson, assistant rural fire chief, said they can't buy a few packs at a time, either.

"They're changing the air packs all the time," Paulson said. "You want them all compatible with each other, so ... everyone's familiar with the equipment."

State law stipulates the department can't collect more than 13 mils from taxpayers, which they have maxed out, Kostelecky said. The department applies for grants, but it's not always enough, he added.

Dickinson Rural Fire is not alone in their financial struggle.

"Most of us are maxed out on our mil levy dollars that we have," said Joe Wanner, Gladstone Fire District chief. "It's sufficient enough, maybe to pay for expenses for the fires we have and the responses we have, but it's getting more difficult to buy the equipment to go with those responses."

Some departments turn to donations to help cover expenses.

"When you're looking for donations, you never know whether you'll get $100 or $1,000 or whatever," Kostelecky said.

If it can't raise the money, it may have to borrow it, he added.

"As a last token, we have to borrow the money from the bank and when you're operating on a deficit, you don't have a lot to offer," Kostelecky said.

He expects the department's 2011 budget to be $148,000.

Their 2010 budget was $127,000 but their expenses were $174,000, he added.

Area fire departments must also replace their radios by 2012, which will cost $125,000.

Kostelecky added it's a constant struggle to keep its equipment updated.

Richardton and Gladstone fire districts are both trying to replace their fire halls. Richardton Fire District secured a grant to cover part of their project, said Rodney Aman, chief of Richardton fire protection district.

Its share of the construction costs is going to put it on a tight budget.

"You just keep your fingers crossed that it stays green and wet so you don't have fires," Aman said.

They can use their emergency fund if it comes down to it, but Aman said he doesn't know how they'd replace it.

Gladstone Fire District is also looking to secure grant money, Wanner said.

If a grant is not secured, the project likely won't happen, he added.

However, not all area rural fire departments are struggling.

"We're doing fine," said Steve Kuntz, South Heart Fire chief. "Our district has the lowest mil levy in the area...we do go after grants and we don't spend unless we get it."