Thousands raised for fire departments that responded during wildfires

First State Bank starts fundraiser for the 24 fire departments that responded to southeast Nebraska wildfires
Published: Nov. 3, 2022 at 9:46 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - As wildfires tore across southern Lancaster County last week, full-time and volunteer firefighters responded quickly to save both lives and land.

On Thursday night, lines backed out the door as hundreds packed into the Hallam Auditorium to laugh, share stories, and donate to the first responders who fought those fires.

In total, there were nearly 290 firefighters who helped put out wildfires near Hallam. It was an inferno that stretched 9,000 acres in Gage and Lancaster County--a sight and smell the community won’t soon forget.

“You got little to no time to think, you just have to act,” said Hallam Volunteer Fire Chief Ryan Skillett. “And that’s, I guess, exactly what I did. My first response was to get as many trucks as I could get coming and start getting water on this fire and then we progressed from there.”

That quick thinking and selflessness are why First State Bank said they decided to put on the dinner. To gather the communities affected to reflect together.

While the meal was free, the event was also a fundraiser.

“These rural fire departments are extremely important all the way across Nebraska, so how can we support them,” said Tim Kalkowski with First State Bank. “So we decided we were going to do a $25,000 match donation, so that’s what we did. I think it’s going to be a huge success, we had a great turnout here tonight.”

Throughout the dinner, people could be seen putting big bills in a container. All the money raised will be split evenly between the 24 fire departments who responded, the majority of them operate on a volunteer basis.

For Hallam, it’ll go toward making repairs caused by the blaze.

“A few mirrors were melted on our trucks, we had some nozzles on our hose lines that got broken, damaged,” Skillett said. “There was some other fire departments that had some truck issues, transmission issues. It varies throughout the department but we’ll probably go through and make sure we get those fixed so we can take care of the next fire when it comes up.”

As of Thursday night, organizers have raised $32,000. Add that to First State’s match of $25,000 and that’s a total of $57,000.

The fundraiser wraps up a week from Thursday, if you want to contribute check out their website.