OKLAHOMA CITY - Oklahoma Forestry Services (OFS), a division of the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, has announced the return of an annual grant program for rural fire departments.

Michelle Finch-Walker, OFS Communications Specialist, said the 836 rural fire departments which received full grants announced earlier this month will also be able to apply for these grants. There is competitive bidding for the grants, which are an 80/20 match, meaning the state is funding 80 percent of the cost of the project.

A share of approximately $400,000 is available to fire departments which serve communities of less than 10,000 in population, said Finch-Walker.

"The funds can be used to buy firefighting or communications equipment, or to refurbish or build a fire station," she said.

Grant information and application may be found at www.forestry.ok.gov/firegrants.

Finch-Walker said since this is a competitive program, not all the rural fire departments will be receiving money.

There is a $30,000 limit on station construction funds and $20,000 for equipment, such as radios, she said.

OFS administrators will decide which fire departments get their share of the $400,000

Applications must be submitted by Oct. 1 to the area rural fire coordinator.

Wendell Wehmeier is the coordinator in this area and can be reached through the Oklahoma Economic Development Agency (OEDA) in Beaver, (580) 625-4531, or oedafire@ptsi.net, for application information.

Wehmeier's area of responsibility includes Beaver, Cimarron, Ellis, Harper, Texas, Woods and Woodward counties.

Finch-Walker said the communications aspect for possible use of this grant is particularly important, as fire departments will need to comply with new federal regulations which go into effect in January 2013.

"So upgrades to communications equipment may be something the fire departments will want to look into closely when applying for the grant," she said. "Ensuring rural fire departments' radio capabilities will be a priority for this grant process."

Wehmeier said most of the radios in his 50-department area, as well as across the state, don't meet the new federal requirements. That will necessitate the purchase of new units or modifications of current equipment for enabling the transition.

"The radios are going from what's called wide band (frequencies) to narrow band after the first of the year," he said. "The current radios won't work as they are."

Finch-Waller said the cost for bringing current radio equipment up to the new standard is approximately $600 per unit.