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story.lead_photo.caption In this July 14, 2016 file photo, a fire truck from the Russellville-Lohman Fire Protection District sits outside a Russellville residence as firefighters extinguish a blaze. Photo by News Tribune / News Tribune.

The Missouri Department of Conservation's Forestry Division is distributing 168 volunteer fire assistance grants throughout the state, and fire protection districts in Cole, Moniteau, Miller and Osage counties have received funds to complete their 50 percent match requests to purchase firefighting equipment.

The Eldon Fire Department matched the remaining half of a $2,968 grant for communication equipment. Chief Randy Vernon said 11 pagers replaced older models and will be distributed among volunteer firefighters.

Pagers are used to communicate with the department's 22 volunteers in the field or at home. The department has six full-time staff who rotate 48-hour shifts.

The grant is competitive throughout the state and is extremely helpful for updating equipment, Vernon said.

"If it wasn't for grants, we wouldn't be able to function as effectively as we are now," he said.

In January, the Eldon Fire Department received a $336,000 federal Assistance to Firefighters grant for self-contained breathing apparatus bottles and fire gear. The city matched $16,000 of the cost.

Other Miller County districts that received MDC grants include the St. Elizabeth Fire Protection District, $897, and Tuscumbia Fire Protection District, $2,390.79.

The St. Elizabeth district purchased a drop tank. The Tuscumbia district purchased more than a dozen items including eight fire hoses, gloves, helmets, a siren and speaker.

The Russellville-Lohman Fire Protection District received $3,000 and purchased five pagers, six backpack pumps, three backpack blowers and three handheld blowers. The equipment costs $6,212.05.

The California Rural Fire Protection District submitted a request for $5,669.44 to replace 14 older backpack blowers, which firefighters use in wildland grass fires. The match of $2,834.72 had not been awarded at the time this story was published.

Chief Shawn Merrill said among the various grants the department applies for, this one in particular they count on the most.

The Jamestown Rural Fire Protection District received $918 and purchased three chainsaws with carrying cases.

The Argyle Volunteer Fire Department in Osage County received about $2,975. Chief Ruben Wieberg said the department purchased 10 radios, four battery chargers for radios, eight pagers, one chainsaw and two backpack blowers.

"A lot of times if you get out in a wildland fire you'll have trees that you have to cut down, too," Wieberg said.

MDC Wildfire Program Supervisor Ben Webster said the match grants help recipients, especially those with small budgets, make purchases for protective clothing, radios, truck equipment and more.

"The farther out in the rural community you get, the tighter the budget gets," Webster said.

The MDC program will award $386,639.14 in grants this year. For more than 30 years, more than $8 million has been distributed to rural fire departments.

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