Southern Oklahoma nonprofit raising funds for volunteer fire departments, emergency personnel affected by COVID-19 cancellations

Sierra Rains
The Southern Oklahoma Emergency Services Foundation was recently founded to help support local emergency personnel and first responders. The nonprofit will be selling raffle tickets to help raise funds for departments in need amid COVID-19 cancellations and concerns.

Proceeds from fundraisers and events held by volunteer fire departments are often a vital source of revenue for everyday operations at these departments. However, these fundraisers have not been exempt from COVID-19 cancellations.

While Southern Oklahoma volunteer departments face the uncertainty of having to cancel or postpone these fundraisers, one new, local nonprofit is seeking to offer assistance through a fundraiser of its own.

CEO of Southern Oklahoma Emergency Services Foundation, Timothy Segler, said the nonprofit, aimed at supporting local emergency personnel, was established only a few months ago.

With first responders and emergency personnel facing a suddenly more stressful atmosphere among a global pandemic, the nonprofit organization has come to the forefront of supporting those individuals.

Segler, who served as a volunteer in the fire service for 14 years prior, said the organization will be selling raffle tickets to help raise funds for emergency personnel who have had to cancel fundraisers during this time.

“The 911 service does not stop because of COVID-19, we have to still keep answering 911 calls because that’s what we’re sent out to do,” Segler said. “When you call 911 you want somebody to come.”

The tickets are $20 a piece and the organization is hoping to sell all 500 before the day of the raffle, scheduled for June 15, 2020. First prize will be a $500 gift certificate from Jerry’s Gun Shop and second prize will be a $250 gift certificate from Jerry’s Gun Shop.

Segler said the funds raised from the raffle will be distributed to departments on a priority needs basis. “If there’s responders whose lives or safety is at risk, we tend to put their life safety first so they can go home to their family,” he said.

Only one month prior to the state of emergency issued in March, several Love County Fire Departments had gathered to hold fundraisers of their own.

Love County Volunteer Fire Department Chris Kirk said in a February interview that the funds raised from these events are vital to everyday operations at volunteer departments, including things such as maintenance just to keep the equipment and emergency vehicles up and 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, such as the Smokey Valley Fire Department in Carter County, run solely off of donations.

“With everything going on with COVID-19 and stuff it has postponed and canceled a lot of the volunteer department’s fundraisers and we’re trying to do stuff locally here in Southern Oklahoma for our first responders,” Segler said. “A lot of them have a sales tax base as well and with the sales tax being what it is now, it’s just a domino effect.”

It can cost up to $4,000 just to provide gear for a single volunteer firefighter, Kirk said. With funding already being limited prior to the pandemic, supporting volunteer departments is important, especially for more rural parts of southern Oklahoma.

“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.”

Segler said the Southern Oklahoma Emergency Services Foundation will continue to sell raffle tickets until they run out. The organization is also planning more fundraisers for the future and will be holding a one mile and 5k fun run in support of emergency personnel in September.

Raffle tickets can be purchased by calling (580) 224-7284 or by visiting the Southern Oklahoma Emergency Services Foundation Facebook page.