OKLAHOMA CITY — For far too long Oklahoma's rural fire departments have depended on hand-me-down and surplus equipment, and State Rep. Paul Roan, Dist. 20, said he believes it's time those departments receive funding so they can purchase new trucks from other sources.

Roan's bill would require a one-time appropriation of $30 million to be placed into the existing Rural Fire Defense Equipment revolving fund, which has not received any funding in several years, and rename the fund the George Barnes Rural Fire Defense Equipment revolving fund after the founder of the Oklahoma Rural Fire Defense Program.

Fire departments could borrow money from the fund for the purchase of vehicles and then repay the amount over a set period of time.

"The money would be used only for buying vehicles, as opposed to other funds that are used to purchase equipment," said Roan, D-Tishomingo. "Our volunteer fire departments work miracles with worn-out equipment and its time we stepped up and helped them out."

Oklahoma's approximately 887 rural fire departments depend on donated public agency surplus vehicles distributed by the Department of Agriculture Forestry Services Division because the state does not provide enough money for the purchase of vehicles. Roan said the military and other public agencies have recently begun to lease their vehicles rather than purchase them.

"When the lease is up, the vehicles no longer go into our state surplus, and our rural fire departments don't get the vehicles they need to function effectively," he said. "There are several other funds set up to distribute money to rural fire departments, but they do not provide enough money for the departments to purchase trucks when needed."

"These departments have had chili suppers, car washes and various other fundraisers to repair their vehicles," said Roan. "They need a funding source to purchase equipment they can depend on."

The departments receive operational grants each year for purchasing items such as fuel, uniforms and equipment. During the 2005 legislative session, approximately $2.43 million was appropriated to the fund for the Department of Agriculture to distribute equally to each qualifying rural department.

"Under the current system, each department receives roughly $2,700," he said. "That is not nearly enough to purchase a usable truck."

The Rural Fire Protection Matching Grant Program is an 80/20 cost-sharing grant. A qualifying community must match state funds with at least 20 percent in local funds in order to receive the other 80 percent from the state.

"To obtain the additional 20 percent is nearly impossible for some departments," he said. "The rural fire defense revolving fund allows a department to get immediate access to funds for a new truck and pay the loan back at a rate the dept can afford."

Roan said rural fire departments saved homeowners about $57 million last year through loss prevention and have reduced homeowners' fire insurance rates by as much as 35 percent in some areas. Roan's House District 20 has the largest population of volunteer fire departments with 43.

"Hopefully, recent events have made everyone aware of the important role these departments play," he said. "We need to give them the tools to continue to save lives and property."