BURLINGTON, Ky. -- As many rural fire departments struggled to successfully attract and retain volunteer firefighters, the Burlington Fire Protection District found a way: By offering scholarships to college students who volunteer in exchange.
Ben Riggs is one of these students. His father was a firefighter in Newport for decades, and he hopes to join the department full-time when he graduates from Eastern Kentucky University. For now, he's studying fire protection administration with Burlington Fire's help and volunteering to earn his scholarship.
"It lets me know that what I'm learning in school is what I'm actually going to be using in real life, too," he said.
Burlington Fire receives over $1 million in federal grants and has spent nearly $400,000 of that on scholarships such as the one that allows Riggs to study and work with them. Seventy volunteers have joined the district since it began offering scholarships, and other grant money has paid for expensive fire protection equipment.
"When we roll out the door with 10, 11 or 12 people instead of the six we used to have, we serve the community better," Chief Jeff Barlow said.
Barlow isn't sure that money will still be available next year, given uncertainty about the federal budget.
"We're not naive," he said. "We know that we're one denial letter away from this program coming to an abrupt halt."
If it does, however, he's committed to finding other sources of funding to continue what he sees as a vital help for the community.