MANHATTAN, Kan. — When you think of the Kansas Forest Service, it’s likely that trees and programs supporting trees come to mind. Many are unaware that the KFS encompasses a multitude of programs that serve Kansans in a variety of ways. The fire management program is one of these programs that has a real impact on the safety and protection of Kansans across the state, said Eric Ward, excess property manager with the KFS.

The primary focus of the fire management program has long been to empower Kansas fire departments to serve their communities. There are around 16,000 firefighters in Kansas, and at least 13,000 of those are volunteers in the state’s 486 rural fire departments. The Kansas Forest Service fire program provides training, excess property distribution, prevention materials, grant funding, and consulting, all aimed at helping fire departments provide the best services possible. The past two years have made it obvious that the wildfire situation in Kansas is escalating, as it has been elsewhere, and the fire program is helping rural and volunteer fire departments keep their communities safe by providing equipment and trucks, free of charge, to combat loss due to fire.

One of the ways the Kansas Forest Service is increasing fire departments’ capacity is through the Federal Excess Property Program. It serves as a conduit for fire departments to be loaned excess federal property, generally military vehicles and fire equipment that have been outfitted to serve their needs.

The property remains under federal ownership, and when no longer needed, the equipment is returned to the forest service for reassignment or disposal.

Additionally, the program provides salvaged parts to help fire departments reduce maintenance costs and provides access to new replacement parts at a reduced cost.

Nearly all Kansas fire departments are struggling to meet operational needs, Ward said, and the Federal Excess Property Program can mean the difference between having quality equipment, and having no equipment at all. It’s important to note about 90 percent of Kansas is protected by volunteer fire departments. There are currently 793 pieces of large equipment and trucks across Kansas, worth $26.5 million.

The Kansas Forest Service also received a fire engine recently through the Federal Excess Property Program from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is an agency partner in wildland fire management. Engine 44 will be used in prescribed burning, training, spring wildfire support, and will likely be deployable in the summer fire season to help combat fires around the country.

Ward said the Kansas Forest Service is proud to make a difference for Kansas fire departments, continually striving to be a reliable source for replacement equipment for fire departments around the state, especially in the current economic climate.