Larimer County Commissioner monthly column: Giving rural fire districts a boost

Sean Dougherty
Larimer County Logo

Every year in October, Larimer County releases its proposed budget for the upcoming year. In addition to the many funding items in the budget, I’m happy to mention an addition to this year’s budget. It’s a local grant program to help rural fire departments, an idea championed by the late Larimer County Commissioner Lew Gaiter III. Rural fire departments are all volunteer or a combination of paid and volunteer and don’t have a wealth of resources to respond to calls, yet they are the first line of defense in remote locations.

Individual needs for an effective response can vary between departments because rural fire departments can have different requirements based on location, terrain and other factors. Those factors might range from equipment needs or protective gear to more training, newer communication equipment or maybe even better firefighting boots.

Applying for state grant funding is an option, but to apply for most grants rural departments are required to have matching funds for the grants they apply for, and many don’t.

To help with this challenge, Larimer County has included in the 2019 Proposed Budget a $30,000 Small Grant Program for rural fire departments and districts. They can apply for a portion of this funding to use at their discretion since they know what they need as first responders.

Our Director of Emergency Management, Lori Hodges, also supports the grant program. “Fire departments have stressed that they need additional funding for training, equipment and grant-matching dollars for bigger programs. Through this program, Larimer County can streamline the process to deliver needed resources to these agencies that provide these important services.”

A big advantage of this program is that Larimer County is able to deliver local funding dollars for public safety without the complex requirements, delays and provisions that accompany most grants. It’s an example of how Larimer County values collaboration and partnerships with others to make Northern Colorado a great place to live — and is also one of Larimer County’s six Guiding Principles.

Though the Larimer County Sheriff is the Fire Warden in Larimer County under Colorado statutory law, by providing support to these rural districts, they’ll be better able to fight smaller fires and rely less on the Sheriff’s Office. The Sheriff can then direct those resources for other public safety issues which need attention.

Rural fire chiefs have said they want the opportunity to locally apply for grant funding to help their departments and districts and would take an active role in how these funds are dispensed if the grant becomes a part of the final Larimer County 2019 budget.

It’s a way we empower people to take responsibility — another Larimer County Guiding Principle — adding value to the lives of Larimer County citizens. Additional funding also benefits rural communities; it keeps them safer, allows Larimer County to be good stewards of public resources, and enables rural firefighters to be stronger and better prepared.

Larimer County Commissioner Sean Dougherty is one of three commissioners. He resides in District 1 and represents all of Larimer County.

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