Love County Volunteer Fire Departments to hold fundraising events throughout the month

Sierra Rains

Love County community members will have three different opportunities to help out three different volunteer fire departments throughout the month of February.

Beginning with the Falconhead Volunteer Fire Department’s Chili Cook-Off on Saturday, Feb. 8, two of the following Saturdays will also be dedicated to chili, fried fish, brisket and various raffles and awards— all shared with the local volunteer firefighters.

Love County Volunteer Fire Department Chairman Chris Kirk said the proceeds from the events will go towards everyday operations at each of the departments, including Falconhead, Gene Autry and Leon Volunteer Fire Departments.

Things like fuel and equipment maintenance are often covered by donations, but for some departments, these funds are what’s keeping them running. “It’s just funds needed to help keep the fire stations open. Period,” Kirk said. “We do rely a lot on grants, but those are becoming harder and harder to get.”

Volunteer fire departments in Love County run off a small budget of somewhere between $10,000 and $15,000, which is composed of an annual $4,000 grant from the state of Oklahoma and a small tax base from the county. Some departments elsewhere rely solely on donations, such as the Smokey Valley Fire Department in Carter County.

The sheer cost of equipment and gear for just one firefighter can take a big chunk out of a department’s budget. Kirk said a full set of gear, from head to toe, easily costs around $4,000 per firefighter. In Love County, there are up to 15 firefighters at each station.

While it has not happened within Love County yet, Kirk said there have been instances in the country where fire stations have had to cease operations, leaving some rural areas without any immediate fire service.

“There’s a lot of areas and a lot of departments that depend on all donations and what help they can get,” Kirk said. “Every donation and all the help that these departments can get is definitely needed throughout the counties and throughout the state.”

Totals vary from event to event, but in past years, anywhere from $1,500 to $4,000 has been generated from events held by volunteer departments, including auctions, chili cook-offs, bbq’s and fish fry’s.

These events also allow the firefighters to visit with and get to know the individuals within their local communities. Great things can be accomplished when the community comes together to support their volunteer fire departments, Kirk said.

One of the best ways for the community to help out is simply by staying in contact with the departments through social media platforms where departments can share their needs, he said.

“I know in the past we’ve reached out to the public and to communities because we needed maybe a couple of tool boxes for a piece of equipment or we needed several other things along the way and we’ve reached out to the community that way,” Kirk said. “The community has helped out that way.”

With volunteer firefighters already dedicating hundreds of hours to protecting their communities from fire danger, Kirk said organizing fundraising events can be taxing on them and requires further expenses from the department.

Therefore, another great way for community members to help out would be by hosting their own fundraisers for the departments.

“Always support your local fire departments — whether they’re volunteer, paid, which ever,” Kirk said. “Just always support them, they’re there to help. And I wouldn’t want to live in an area where they didn’t have any.”

The Falconhead Fire Department will be hosting its Chili Cook-Off at 5 p.m. on Feb. 8 at the fire station, located off of Falconhead Dr. in Burneyville. Entry is free. Monetary prizes will be given out for the best tasting chili, the runner up and the most spicy.

The Gene Autry Fire Department will be hosting its first annual Chili Cook-Off at 10 a.m. on Feb. 22 at the Gene Autry Community Center, located at 136 Tumbleweed Rd. Tasting kit armbands will be sold at $5 each.

First, second and third place winners will be chosen by a panel of judges. A people’s choice award will also be given out. For more info on how to register for the Gene Autry Chili Cook-Off contact Jenna Staples at 580-222-7200 or Paul Tucker at 580-220-9179.

The Leon Fire Department will be hosting its Fish Fry and Brisket Fundraiser at 3 p.m. on Feb. 29 at the Leon Community Center, located at 27384 East Ridge St. Raffle tickets are $5 for one and $20 for five. Door prizes will be given out and a dessert auction and raffle for various firearms will be held during the event.