Arkansas fire departments worried about rural response times as Forestry Commission lays off more than a dozen firefighters in effort to address US$4M shortfall

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas , January 13, 2012 () – More than a dozen firefighters with the Arkansas Forestry Commission have been laid off and volunteer fire departments say they're worried that could affect fire-response times in rural areas.

The commission laid off 36 workers Friday because of a $4 million shortfall. That includes 14 forest rangers who help fight wildfires in the state. Toni Perkins, the president of the Arkansas Rural and Volunteer Firefighters Association, says departments throughout the state rely heavily on the forestry commission for assistance fighting fires and for use of equipment.

The association has more than 3,000 members. Perkins says the forestry commission is the backbone of many small fire departments.

State forester John Shannon says the layoffs will affect the commission's ability to fight fires but the agency needed to make the cuts.

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