Given the opportunity, Laura Hintz said, she can’t help but brag about the Knox County volunteer firefighters and first responders, not only because of their technical skill, but also because of their selfless cooperation.
“I think I have some of the best fire and rescue departments in the state,” said Hintz, who is the Knox County emergency manager. “It’s the fact they all work together… and egos are at a minimum. The departments train together and all get along well. They are just a good bunch of people.”
Hintz said she was particularly impressed last October when 11 fire departments – seven from Knox County and four from adjacent Antelope and Pierce counties – responded to a grass fire two miles south of Center, the county seat. Strong winds fueled the fire that stretched over a couple hundred acres with the potential to spread through nearby canyons and trees.
No Injuries or Damaged Structures
Firefighters brought the fire under control in four hours and keep the situation from becoming a disaster, Hintz said. No one was injured and no structures were burned.
The fire outside Center was one of a half dozen fires fought last summer by fire departments in the Knox County Mutual Finance Organization (MFO). Each year, Mutual Finance Organizations (MFOs) like the one in Knox County and Fire Protection Districts (FPDs) receive aid from the state’s Mutual Finance Assistance Fund. This fiscal year, $3.35 million will be divided among 37 MFOs and FPDs in the state, according to the Treasury Management Division of the Nebraska State Treasurer’s Office.
The Knox County MFO is made up of six rural and merged fire districts and three village fire departments, said David Carlson, chair of the Knox County MFO and chief of the Wausa Volunteer Fire Department. The Wausa team, one of the entities in the Knox County MFO, includes 30 male firefighters – some also are emergency medical technicians – and 2 female EMTs. Among the volunteers are farmers, teachers, business owners, construction workers, and semi-retired individuals.
In addition to farmland and small towns, the county includes Niobrara State Park, the Santee Sioux Indian Reservation, and the Missouri National Recreation River on the Nebraska-South Dakota border.
New Equipment and Expanded Capabilities
Carlson said the Knox County MFO will use its state aid this year to replace outdated equipment and to add to its capabilities. The Wausa Fire Department, for instance, is using its allocation to purchase rope rescue equipment for use in extricating victims from accidents involving deep ditches or grain bins and lighter, heat resistant gear for fighting outdoor wild-land fires.
“We have to have essential things in our budget like heat, electricity, fuel for the trucks, and insurance. These are our priority budgetary items,” Carlson said. “Supplies like wild-land gear wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t have additional funds available,” such as aid through the Mutual Finance Assistance Fund.
“It’s peace of mind. That’s the best way I can describe it,” Carlson said. “Maybe we cannot handle every situation or take every situation through to completion, but we know we can start, get something done, rather than just wait for a rope rescue team to come from Lincoln. We have a purpose for being there.”
Carlson said Knox County residents appreciate the volunteer firefighters’ commitment and freely hand out compliments and words of thanks. “Being a businessman on Main Street exposes me to a lot of people. Whether I walk into the Post Office or the grocery store or the mini mart, I often hear, ‘You guys did such a great job fighting this fire,’ or ‘We are so thankful you were there on this rescue call.’”
In turn, Carlson said, when the Knox County MFO members gather for their annual meeting each spring or early summer, he hears positive comments about their participation in the Mutual Finance Assistance Fund. “We appreciate the fact that the state realizes our work is important,” he said. At the annual meeting, “we get together to talk about any issues that have arisen in the last year and whether we want to reapply to participate,” he said. “The vote is always unanimous to reapply.”