LITTLE RIVER — The dawning of a new year has brought several changes to the Little River Volunteer Fire Department, including a new chief and new equipment.

"I'm excited," said Shawn Allen, who became Little River's fire chief as of Jan. 1, "I think it's a great opportunity and kind of a morale booster for the other guys on the department."

Allen said the department not only acquired a new-to-them fire truck, it also received a $5,283.95 grant for equipment from the Kansas Firefighter Recruitment and Safety Grant Program, which is administered by the Office of the State Fire Marshal.

"That extra grant money really does help, especially for replace some of the older gear that is just worn out," Allen said.

The Kansas Firefighter Recruitment and Safety Grant Program was made possible with the 2018 State of Kansas budget passed by the state Legislature. Last year, 36 departments were awarded grant funds with the previous grant budget of $200,000. The OSFM was able to award grant funds to 70 departments this year, with the funding being doubled to $400,000.

The bulk of Little River's grant — $3,500 — will go towards the purchase of a washer/extractor machine to wash the fire crew's bunker gear.

"A lot of our gear ranges anywhere from five to 10 years old, so all that smoke and everything else is still on it," Allen said. "They're really pushing the cancer prevention, and that's a big part of it, with all the smoke and chemicals on our gear...if we can wash that off, it's healthier for us."

$1783.95 of the grant will pay for five sets of helmets, hoods, structural firefighting gloves and extrication gloves.

"Firefighting— that business is risky enough. You don't want to risk using old equipment," Allen said.

Little River's grant request was written to ask for enough funds to cover buying those items for each of the 20 people on the fire department's roster, but Allen said he understands there is only so much to go around.

"it's really increased, the demand for help," Allen said.

According to the State Fire Marshal, over $1.3 million in requests from 79 departments were submitted this year. Fire departments received approximately $310,000 to be used for safety gear and $90,000 for 26 washer/extractor machines. Due to the high number of requests, OSFM will be requesting the 2019 Legislature continue funding the grant.

“We’ve seen, by the sheer number of requests for this funding, the need is high among our volunteer and part-time fire departments,” said State Fire Marshal Doug Jorgensen. “It is simply unacceptable to ask Kansans, not only to volunteer their time as first responders in smaller communities, but to also sacrifice their safety by not giving them the tools they need to protect and serve their communities as volunteer firefighters. This grant allows us to assist in providing some of the funds needed to provide safety equipment the departments otherwise could not afford.”

The Little River Volunteer Fire Department covers roughly 150 square miles in Rice County and provides mutual aid to McPherson County and Reno County.

"It only takes one call," Allen said. "It doesn't matter what it is — you need the right equipment and the right gear."

For more information on the Kansas Firefighter Recruitment and Safety Grant Program, visit https://firemarshal.ks.gov/agency-resources/kfrsg.

Contact Patricia Middleton by email at pmiddleton@mcphersonsentinel.com or follow her stories on Twitter at @MacSentinel.