GFC’s Rural Fire Defense Program (RFD)

By Emily Hamilton, GFC Rural Fire Defense Manager

The Georgia Forestry Commission offers special services to Georgia communities through the Rural Fire Defense Program. As ­Rural Fire Defense Manager, it is my job to support GFC’s Protection Department by facilitating partnerships statewide as we work together to prevent and reduce the risk of wildfires.

The purpose of the Rural Fire Defense program is to assist unprotected rural communities in establishing an initial fire protection program and to reinforce existing fire departments and equip them for fighting wildland fires. These departments serve as a force multiplier in assisting GFC with firefighter personnel and equipment for rapid deployment on wildfires.

Under a Cooperative Lease Agreement with government entities, the Georgia Forestry Commission loans and leases equipment for firefighting purposes. The Commission furnishes surplus equipment of various types to cooperators, who agree to develop the equipment into serviceable firefighting brush trucks, pumpers, or tankers. In many instances the Commission has furnished pumps, hose, reels and miscellaneous items to the cooperators as they become available through the Federal Excess Property Program. This allows fire departments with limited budgets to obtain firefighting equipment that they otherwise would not have been able to afford.

Also in some instances, the GFC builds the equipment needed, such as tanks, knockers, super knockers, front mount pumpers, and many miscellaneous projects to fire departments “at cost.” These are fire trucks that can be taken off-pavement and used in more wooded areas. This equipment provides critical fire support, especially within the wildland urban interface, which is where forests intersect with communities. As of 2024, there are over 3200 pieces of various types of equipment located in 142 Georgia counties that support more than 930 individual fire station locations.

The Rural Fire Defense Program also provides various grants that include the National Fire Plan-Volunteer Fire Assistance (NFP-VFA) Grant, which is a 50/50 matching grant, as well as the regular Volunteer Fire Assistance (VFA) Grant that includes Basic Wildland Fire Training, Wildland PPE at a 50/50 match, and assists the Georgia Fire Academy.

During my time as Rural Fire Defense Manager, I have had the opportunity to establish some great relationships and have learned a lot about what is needed in rural communities. Many departments have shared their success stories concerning the outstanding value added to their departments and local communities through active participation within the rural fire defense program. Here’s a recent one!

From Ryan Dixon, Asst. Chief, Alamo Fire Department:  

The Georgia Forestry Commission and Rural Fire Defense have played a vital role in the success of the Alamo Volunteer Fire Department. With their help, we have expanded our fleet from one truck to five trucks over several years. We have gained a 2500-gal tanker, a 1000-gal knocker, an F 550 brush truck, and our most recent addition, a front-mounted pumper. With this equipment, our rural volunteer department has been able to better serve the citizens of Alamo and those throughout Wheeler and surrounding counties in their time of need. This equipment and several GFC grants have helped lower our ISO rating from an 8 to a 4. Emily Hamilton, RFD Manager, and Michael Henderson, our former chief ranger, have been instrumental in helping us obtain this much-needed equipment. 

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