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Dousing flames not only challenge facing volunteer fire departments

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MARKLE, Ind. (WPTA21) - Many of Indiana's 800 volunteer fire departments are struggling with tight budgets and sagging recruitment.

Agencies are having to think outside the box to overcome some problems, while others may take help from state lawmakers to get a handle on.

Markle Fire Dept. is debuting new dual purpose fire truck.

The Markle Fire Department in Huntington County is pumped up about showing off its new toy.

It's a truck that is an engine, outfitted with hoses and fire suppression equipment, and a rescue vehicle, all in one.

Fire chief Jon Gray admits the truck is not cheap.

It cost about $640,000.

But now, when a house catches fire, or a serious car crash happens, the department may only have to send out one truck, not two, to assist.

"With taking only one truck you're saving a lot of wear and tear. We're saving fuel by only taking one truck out instead of two and hopefully we'll see great success and this lasting 20 years," Chief Gray said.

The Markle Fire Department doesn't have significant manpower issues, but that's not the case for several others in this area.

Southwest Fire District Chief Don Patnoude believes state legislature must step in to help with volunteer firefighter manpower shortages.

"We're just seeing less and less people wanting to become volunteer firefighters," said Don Patnoude.

He is the long-time chief of the Southwest Fire District in Allen County.

His department has a budget to support hiring some full and part-time staff to make fire and ambulance runs at all times of the day.

Some small departments can't afford to do that.

Patnoude says agencies that can't recruit enough young volunteers, must rely on aging ones who may find it hard to handle the physical demands of firefighting.

"In many departments it's already at the critical level and there needs to be…the ball needs to start rolling down at the Statehouse on how we address this, because ultimately it's going to end up there. You're not going to be able to kick the can down the road, because you're running out of road," Patnoude said.

About 70 percent of America's firefighters are volunteers.

Jeff Neumeyer

Jeff Neumeyer is a reporter for WPTA.

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