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GREENBRIER, Ark.(KTHV)- In Arkansas, most rural residents depend on their local volunteer fire departments to protect their property from loss. Unfortunately, they are generally under-funded and under-equipped.

Rural Volunteer Fire Departments are one of Arkansas' greatest assets. In fact 90 percent of the state's fire service is made up of volunteers, but limited funding and resources can make fighting fires a challenge.

"Trucks like this. You're talking tens of thousands of dollars."

Luckily, for fire departments like Greenbrier, help is available. Through the Arkansas Forestry Commission's Rural Fire Protection Program departments have access to the equipment they need free of charge.

John Blackburn, the administrator for the rural fire program assists the 914 volunteer departments in the state. Blackburn says he helps acquire supplies needed.

"The vehicles that are behind me are one of the avenues that we have to help firefighters. They're gathered through the federal excess program."

Blackburn says the program is designed to help rural fire districts protect their communities.

"They're a very important partner in our firefighting efforts and they are the first line of defense and anything we can do to help them be better equipped and trained."

Blackburn says the program receives 5 to 6 requests daily. He says using a federal surplus database the forestry commission then puts in a request for the equipment.

"We screen those through the system, we compete with other states for them. They're destined for firefighter use."

Greenbrier firefighter Stephen Ferguson says the program is vital to their existence.

"With funds being hard to come by in a small community like we are this program is great to have. You can get stuff that you need to help out. It's a life-saving thing."

And Blackburn says the feeling is mutual.

"There's no way the Arkansas Forestry Commission could cover all the fires that are in the state without the help of volunteers and the local firefighters."

There are 938 fire departments in Arkansas. Only 24 departments have paid firefighters.

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