Rural Kansas towns face elevated fire risk, struggles to find volunteer firefighters

Rural fire department in Paradise, Kansas
Rural fire department in Paradise, Kansas(KWCH)
Published: Oct. 10, 2022 at 7:39 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Rural towns across Kansas face continued drought conditions compounded by a concern with a lack of available firefighters.

The small community of Paradise has seen firsthand how bad an emergency fire situation can get and how valuable volunteer firefighters are. Last December, a fire devastated the town. With aid from volunteers from outside the community, they were able to put it out.

“The support that came that day and the days and weeks following was phenomenal,” said Volunteer firefighter Todd Schneider. “I couldn’t believe the amount of trucks that showed up to save us, basically.”

Now, Paradise is among communities needing more of its own volunteers.

“There’s not a lot of people in our area, and finding people that want to do that, it’s tough to do,” Schneider said.

Some that can help don’t have the time to dedicate to becoming a volunteer firefighter.

“When I ask people if they’d consider (volunteering) for the fire department, I get, ‘we’re too busy,’ you know, excuses like that,” Russell and Ellsworth County Emergency Management Director Keith Haberer said.

The lack of volunteers makes it difficult for fire departments to always be staffed.

“Most of our guys in this area are farming or are ranchers, and today I talked to the fire chief from Paradise here and he’s out on the swather,” Haberer said.

He said volunteering is “all about community service.”

“If you really want to be involved in your community, you would stop and be a volunteer and help out,” Haberer said.

He said stepping up to be a volunteer firefighter begins with the simple step of contacting your local fire department.