Rural Fire Departments Prove Successful

Rural Fire Departments Prove Successful

RURAL fire protection, the most recent field entered by firemen in their never ending endeavor to reduce the annual loss of life and property by fire, is destined to become a major part of the nation’s fire defense.

Fire-protection-minded individuals and organizations realized that improved roads and modern motorized fire apparatus made rural fire protection possible. It soon became apparent that fire apparatus which had formerly been designed for use in urban areas only could be developed to better fit the needs of rural areas. Accordingly, fire department officials, government officials, insurance interests, fire apparatus manuacturers and the National Fire Protection Association formulated standards which were subsequently coordinated and published.

Farm fire fighting may include grain field fires as shown here.

Specific Assignment

Rural fire department service is fire protection furnished property located outside the corporate limits of a municipality by specific assignment, using apparatus designated for such purpose. This includes farm property, scattered suburban dwelling or mercantile property, isolated manufacturing property, or even small unincorporated communities. Assignment must be specific so that every property owner within a given district will know definitely the procedure to follow in turning in an alarm and prearranged fire department service will be immediately available.

Methods of Providing Protection

The following methods are most widely used to provide rural fire protection :

  1. Apparatus and equipment is provided by means of subscriptions solicited throughout the district served and arrangements are made with a municipal or town Fire Department in the vicinity for housing, manning and maintenance. Subscribers are furnished protection for the life of the truck, or, in some cases, a small additional fee is charged annually. Fires in property of non-subscribcrs are generally responded to but a bill is submitted, which, if not paid many times leads to discontinuance of service.
  2. Apparatus and Equipment are provided by a municipal or town fire department, apparatus being housed, manned, and maintained by such department. Fire department service is then sold on an annual fee basis, at so much per property, depending upon the type, size and character thereof. Non-subscribers receive service only when the payment of a comparatively large sum is guaranteed, or when the fire endangers the property of a subscriber. Also, fire protection associations formed by groups of suburban property owners, or the residents of a small unincorporated community, have been known to contract for a nearby municipal or town fire department to furnish protection within the entire district for an annual fee when they have not been able to provide facilities of their own. Entire townships or other legal divisions of territory may also make arrangements to obtain outside fire protection in the manner described.
  3. Protection is provided through the formation of a rural fire protection district. By an act of the State Legislature one or more townships, or a part of a township, or parts of several townships may form a fire protection district within which a tax may b.e levied for the provision of fire protection. Management of the district’s affairs is the duty of a duly elected or appointed board of trustees. Fire protection for all property within the limits of such a specifically defined district is generally provided by the following methods:
    1. Contract between an established fire department and the fire protection district whereby the district is given protection for an annual fee. Municipal or town fire department provides apparatus, equipment, man power, maintenance and housing facilities.
    2. Provision and maintenance of apparatus and equipment by the fire protection district with manning and housing facilities provided by the municipal or town fire department. The service rendered is then paid for on the basis of a set fee per run, per hour, or per year.

Provision of full fire department facilities by the fire protection district. including apparatus, equipment housing and personnel. Fire department is then located in the community or municipality included within the boundaries of the fire protection district.

It is generally found that arrangements for fire protection made through a rural fire protection district, township or other legally authorized body is the most satisfactory method for both fire department and property owner and leads to fewer controversies over payment of fees, assignment of response, maintenance of equipment and general management.

Rural fire fighting includes grass and brush fires. Many a farm building in the path of a grass or brush fire has fallen prey to the flames.

Requirement for Protection

Rural fire department service to render satisfactory protection must consist of the same fundamental facilities that go into the make-up of city fire department service, namely: 1. Adequate, well trained, properly organized personnel, with good leadership and proper personal equipment. 2. Ample records of operations, facilities available, district and property covered, including a proper inspection program in connection with the compilation of such records. 3. Proper housing facilities. 4. Good alarm arrangement. 5. Apparatus designed for the service, carrying necessary specifically adapted equipment for all maneuvers necessary to control and properly overhaul a fire. 6. Proper maintenance of apparatus and equipment.

Personnel—Volunteer or Call

In practically every case, apparatus for rural protection is manned by the fire department located in the municipality or community in which the apparatus is housed. The minimum trained fire department personnel responding should not be less than five men so as to assure a fairly well manned company. Where departments are largely or wholly call or volunteer, the total number of men designated for this service should be such as to provide a good factor of safety. In other words with five men as a minimum responding, the total call or volunteer personnel from which this minimum manning is obtained should he at least 10 or preferably larger. Needless to say, where rural service is assumed by a municipal volunteer or call fire department, assignment of men should he specifically arranged so that man power available for city protection will not be entirely depleted while rural alarms are being responded to. This may best he done by dividing the department into several companies, assigning one company to rural work and both to service in the city. Companies should, of course, be changed trom time to time to allow all firemen to participate in the rural service.

Personnel—Full Paid

Where departments are on a full paid basis, and rural service is assumed. it is usually more difficult to obtain the minimum man power, as stated. This especially applies to the smaller lull paid fire departments. In most cases, so that company strength will not he depleted, the usual man power responding is not greater than two men. the off-shift filling in at quarters. Untrained farmers are then depended upon for assistance.

Farm Fire Department

To offset this, the organization of a farm fire department to supplement full paid personnel is desirable. One plan which has proved successful is as follows: The rural district is divided into four sections and five farm firemen have been appointed in each. All firemen have phones and phone numbers are posted at the telephone exchange. This farm fire department meets monthly with the city firemen and special drills are held for them. Apparatus is housed in the city and upon receipt of a rural alarm at headquarters, two men. namely a driver and an officer, respond with the rural truck. The telephone company cooperates and calls the rural firemen by telephone, response being direct to the fire. Then, when the apparatus arrives, a satisfactory number of trained men are available for fire fighting. A standing order is that if at all possible response of farm firemen be made with a truck, and that extra milk cans filled with water be carried for replenishment of the booster tank and other water supply facilities.


The problem of locating the rural fire from the information transmitted to the fire department at time of fire is similar to that encountered in a good size municipality due to the large area usually covered. For this reason, records for rural fire department work, in addition to the usual fire loss, operation, personnel and equipment records, should consist of a map of the territory covered, including road information and the location of all property served, cross referenced with another file, either of the card type or other readily accessible form, giving further details of the property, such as the name of the owner and the tenant, water supplies, building location, construction, etc. Periodic check-up of records is, of course, vital, and fire prevention work may be accomplished in conjunction with such regular inspections.

Housing Facilities

Satisfactory housing facilities are usually provided, although in smaller towns apparatus sometimes is housed without special accommodations in a public garage, which is very poor practice. If it is necessary to use a public garage until proper station facilities are provided, space for apparatus should he properly partitioned off from the rest of the garage so that no interference to response will occur, or there will be no danger of by-standers borrounng equipment. Based on this thought, the various agencies mentioned above have set forth suggested accessories to be carried on rural fire apparatus, and it is recommended that these be followed. The thought to be borne in mind, of course, in using such specifications is that the requirement is for the ultimate job to be done by such accessory and not the specific type of accessory recommended. In other words, it something is developed by the department to do the specific job for which the recommended accessory is meant, and if it will do it just as well, so much the better.

Fire fighting is a difficult task if modern apparatus is not available


Alarm facilities and arrangements are varied, but in all cases should he such that there will be no interference to the rapid receipt of alarms. Audible general alarm facilities are usually a necessity where departments are largely or wholly volunteer or call.


There are many different types of fire apparatus used for rural service, but in general the triple combination pumping type is the most widely used and is no doubt most adaptable for the principal fire fighting unit. Pump should be of at least 300 gallons per minute capacity so that 2 1/2-inch hose lines may be utilized if water supplies permit. Automotive engines available and generally used in fire apparatus are capable of driving a pump of this capacity and most of them are capable of driving larger units. Where power is available for a larger pump it should be used, as such additional pumping capacity may at some time be most valuable. Apparatus should be of a type which has passed the 12-hour duration test of the National Board of Fire Underwriters and should pass a 3-hour acceptance test upon delivery. Sufficient power should be available and chassis design such that men and necessary equipment may be carried, even under adverse conditions, without overloading. In all cases, apparatus for rural protection should be in addition to, or supplemented by, suitable apparatus for protection of the city, while outside alarms are being responded to. Booster tanks should be of at least 200 gallons, and hose body of at least 1000 ft. capacity.

Due to the water supply problem in rural areas, the present trend is to provide booster tanks capacity in excess of the minimum specified. However, it should be borne in mind that water weighs approximately 8 1/3 lbs. per gallon, and harmful overloading of apparatus may result when abnormal quantities of water are carried, in addition to men, hose and necessary appliances. Therefore, it is suggested that if it is desired to carry large quantities of water on mobile apparatus, consideration be given the provision of water carriers auxiliary to the principal fire fighting unit. Many of these are in successful use at present and enable the fire department to have on hand a good quantity of water from small streams without overloading the primary apparatus.

Accessory Equipment

In considering accessory equipment, we may well repeat the statement made in describing requirements for fundamental facilities for fire departments, namely, “apparatus designed for the service, carrying necessary specifically adapted equipment for all maneuvers necessary to control and properly overhaul a fire.” In selling fire apparatus, manufacturers usually agree to furnish the apparatus equipped with what is known as “basic equipment” for a certain sum, any other equipment added being known as “extras.” Many times a fire department will get a new truck provided with basic equipment only, and is expected to use it as an efficient piece of fire apparatus. If the department is progressive, however, the truck does not remain that way very long. Immediately it is seen that to meet the fundamental need numerous other accessories have to be added. In fact in many cases appliances are found on fire trucks which have been developed for one specific type of work by the fire department. However, in every case, it should be the ultimate aim to carry every appliance necessary to do any specific type of work

Knapsack type hand pumps have proven themselves at rural fires. Here one is being filled by a farm pump.

which might be encountered, with the thought in mind that a tool specifically designed for the job is better than something that is pressed into service in an emergency.

Other Facilities Which May Be Used

Following such specific thought many other facilities may be brought to mind which can be used to advantage. Such things as auxiliary portable pumping units, auxiliary water carriers, flood lighting equipment, first aid squads with rescue equipment, and a good number of other auxiliaries to the principal fire fighting unit may give needed supplementary service.

There are also other problems of rural protection, such as the development of rural water supplies, maximum distances advisable for response, arrangement for maintaining roads in condition, rural telephone service, etc., which are of great importance and should not be overlooked when organizing for the protection of your community.


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