ANDERSON — Once a month, the Richland Township Volunteer Fire Department sends its firefighters out to train.
As part of the training, firefighters use maps to locate where they can quickly access water.
As part of a rural department north of Anderson, firefighters don’t always have access to hydrants. If needed, they use a vacuum on a truck to draw water.
“If we’re by a creek or pond, that’s how we can get water if we have a suction device on our engine. That’s how we can continuously pump water when we need it,” Richland Township volunteer firefighter John Moore Jr. said.
Some departments do run out of water, as was the case near Logansport as firefighters worked to control a blaze that killed six people in a rural home Wednesday morning. Firefighters had to stop battling for about five minutes until more tanker trucks arrived.
Stubborn fires can take upwards of 9,000 gallons of water as was the case last year in an RV fire in a factory in Bristol.
Rural areas, however, rarely have access to hydrants That can lead to higher insurance costs for homeowners.
Hoosiers living near a fire station will pay less for home insurance. Homes that are located near permanently staffed fire departments usually cost less to insure, according to the Insurance Information Institute.
And urban and suburban homes typically receive better ratings for fire protection than rural communities.
Mostly, volunteer departments face challenges in operations.
“The biggest problem we’ve got is lack of manpower, lack of manpower and lack of money,” said Larry Bartlow, a public relations representative for the West Central District of the Indiana Volunteer Firefighters Association.
Moore added, “A lot of people work during the week and if it’s an afternoon fire or even a morning fire it’s kind of hard to get people since they’re off to work.”
If a fire appears heavy or spreads, neighboring departments are put on call or asked to help.
Last week, fire destroyed a home in the small Cass County community of Onward. Walton Community Fire Chief Brett Shupperd said 20 tankers were needed to put out the fire, gathering water from several nearby departments. Firefighters even tapped into an old department well.
“Dispatchers know, and we all know, that it takes more than one department to do it,” Bartlow said. “When it gets to rural fire, one department doesn’t have enough assets to put it out.”
The rate that people join volunteer fire departments is dropping, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
In a 2017 survey, 42 percent of the volunteers had been with their department more than 10 years while 10 percent had been with their departments for less than a year.