The Criner Hills Fire Department showed off its new digs to area politicians, media, family and friends in an open house Thursday night.

The substation is located on Bussell Ridge Road and built through an 80/20 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry Rural Fire Defense program. Criner Hills Fire Chief Charles Campbell said the substation was created in an effort to lower insurance costs in the area. The Insurance Office rating is 8B and it is hoped it can be lowered to a 7 or a 6 in the coming years.

"I think by having them in the same area, it will save a minimum of $200 a year," Rep. Tommy Hardin (R-Madill) said.

"I think with the growth we have in southern Oklahoma, this is a much needed addition," Rep. Pat Ownbey (R-Ardmore) added.

The open house was also a celebration of how far the department has come since it was established in October 1983. Campbell took over as fire chief in 1984 and has served in that position to date. He talked about the commitment of the volunteer firefighters, who in the beginning were required to provide their own equipment. Ardmore Fire Chief Cary Williamson started as a member of the Criner Hill department and recalled wearing a size 11 boot and a size 9 ½ boot despite being a size 10.

"All my people are community-minded," Campbell said. "They take pride in what they are doing and take pride in their community.

"It (substation) has been a real big step and it's a step that's well worth it. It will help our area and it will help the people in the area."

Campbell said the department has 25 members and it is hoping the state will allow it to expand to five more volunteers. Sen. Frank Simpson (R-Ardmore) said area legislators have been busy working to aid rural volunteer fire departments. He described their efforts as critical to saving lives as well as property.

"Thank you all for what you do," Simpson said. "One of our big battles is the between the urban and rural guys (legislators). The urban guys don't understand how critical all of you are but we are trying."

Chris Reding will serve as the captain at the substation, which will house a pumper, tanker, brush truck and rescue truck.

"It started out as a dream two years ago," Reding said. "We got an 80/20 grant and we raised additional money through fundraisers and state money."

Reding said the Hayes Family Trust was also instrumental in helping with the location, which was selected a ¼-mile from the land originally looked at to house the substation.

"It took a month to build," Reding said. "We were getting at the end of the grant and there were issues with finding the right spot."

The cost of the substation was $25,260.

"This new substation will help us to do a better job in providing service to our district," Walter Butler, Criner Hills firefighter, said. "I want to thank Senator Simpson and Representatives Hardin and Ownbey for supporting programs that help rural fire departments. Their help is invaluable to us."