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Oklahoma Law Limits Man Power to Volunteer Fire Departments
SLAUGHTERVILLE, OK-- Months after a massive wildfire tore through Slaughterville, The Gibsons are re-building their home.
As they start from the ground up, The Gibsons say being on this side of the fire is unfamiliar territory, that's because Tony Gibson was a volunteer firefighter.
"I've never seen a fire like this in the 10 years that I was on there," Gibson recalls.
The Gibsons know first hand the limited resources available to Slaughterville and other volunteer fire departments across the state. Oklahoma law allows a maximum of 25 volunteer firefighters in each department.
"I don't think they should have a cap at all," said Lisa Gibson, Tony's wife.
Many families who lost homes in the Slaughterville fire echo the same sentiment as Lisa, asking why Oklahoma law puts a limit on man power on volunteer fire departments. Some want to see the cap lifted.
"I would like to see unlimited," said Chief Paul Long, with the Slaughterville Fire Department, "but then again, I turn around and I see the way it would hurt the pension system."
Chief Long says the state's pension plan for volunteer firefighters often serves as a recruiting tool for departments. Officials with the Oklahoma Firefighers Pension and Retirement System say pension benefits for volunteer firefighters cost the department $320 per firefighter each year, with more than 8,000 firefighters in the system, that costs the state about $2,500,000.
"There's a lot of departments that can't even get 25 people," he explained.
Records from the Oklahoma Firefighters Pension and Retirement System show most volunteer departments in the state have 10 to 15 firefighters, some departments as few as two.
"It takes a special type of person to be a firefighter," said Bob Jones, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Firefighters Pension and Retirement System.
Intense training, weekly meetings, and no pay other than pension benefits make it difficult to retain volunteers.
Gibson still remembers the hours he put in while he served on the Slaughterville Fire Department.
"When you have people that are working during the day, you may be out there for 12-13 hours before you got anybody else there," he recalled.
While Slaughterville has twenty five volunteers on the force, many firefighters have other jobs.. and not everyone can respond at the same time, which is why Lisa Gibson wants to see the volunteer cap lifted.
"I personally think anybody that wants to be in the fire department should be in the fire department," she said.
Although pension benefits can draw more interest from potential volunteers, but many firefighters, like Dewayne Tolson, with the Slaughterville Fire Department say they're not in this for the money.
"I just want to help the public," Tolson explained, "and do what I can to serve the public."
Slaughterville Fire Department has mutual aide agreements are in place with other departments, but Tolson says they can always use more man power on big fires.
"The more firefighters we have, the better off we are," he said.
More firefighters can help in some situations, but even with hundreds of firefighters, Gibson knows sometimes homes can not be saved when major wildfires tear through the area.
"Some fires you just can't fight, it's the nature of the beast," said Gibson.
Posted: Monday, November 12 2012, 10:07 PM CST
IN OKLAHOMA NEWS
Oklahoma lawmakers applaud Altus AFB training unit
May 23, 2013 20:35 GMT
ALTUS, Okla. (AP) -- Southwestern Oklahoma lawmakers are applauding the selection of Altus Air Force Base as the first formal training unit for the Air Force's new KC-46 air refueling tanker.
Sen. Mike Schulz of Altus said Thursday that the training unit will be good for the region's economy. Schulz says the unit means new construction jobs and additional positions for maintenance and technical support.
Rep. Charles Ortega of Altus says the Altus base's selection is a positive reflection not only on the base, but on the community and the state.
The Air Force plans to buy 179 KC-46 aircraft in the first part of a three-step plan to replace existing refueling aircraft. The new aircraft will have more refueling capacity and will be more efficient.
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