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A matching grant from the U.S. Forest Service and the Missouri Department of Conservation is making Callaway County firefighters and residents safer.

"Communication equipment is very expensive," said Chief Greg Luebbert of the Central Callaway Fire Protection District. "That's all we put the money into this time."

Communication equipment is one of the most crucial tools needed to successfully operate a fire department, Luebbert said. The funds from the grant were used to buy hand held communication devices for the department, he added.

"It's life safety for both the citizens and the firefighters," he said. "We have to communicate how to attack a fire safely, how everyone is doing and who needs help. It's life or death for us."

Each year, fire departments serving communities of less than 10,000 can apply for a matching grant, Luebbert said

"It's a matching grant fund from the conservation department," he said. "They match up to $3,000, dollar for dollar."

Ben Webster, forestry field program supervisor with the Missouri Department of Conservation, said the Central Callaway County Fire Protection District is one of 156 departments chosen to receive the matching grant.

"They are receiving checks for up to $4,000 dollars to help with the purchase of protective gear and firefighting equipment," he said in a statement. "Fire departments are required to match 50 percent of the funds provided by the Department of Conservation and U.S. Forest Service."

Webster said the during the 30-year-old history of the match grant, they have given small departments nearly $8 million in funds.

"Over $7.5 million has been distributed to rural fire departments," he said. "(They're used) to help them increase the safety of their firefighters and provide them with better firefighting equipment."

Luebbert said this is the third time his department has received the grant.

"It's been around for a long time," he said. "We've gotten grants from them before. This is probably our third time getting a grant."

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