Helping make communities safer, one grant and fire department at a time

Highlighting our commitment to safety, service, innovation, people, communities and our heritage.

Oct 26, 2023

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5 min.

Helping make communities safer, one grant and fire department at a time

BNSF and the BNSF Railway Foundation have always made it a priority to invest in first responders because we consider them partners with us in keeping the communities in which we live and work safe. Those investments may come in the way of training or lifesaving tools and equipment.  

This Saturday, Oct. 28, is National First Responders Day, so we want to give a shout out to these local heroes and look at how the Foundation has supported them over the years. In the past five years alone, the Foundation has made more than 340 contributions totaling $2.4 million-plus to first responders, including fire departments, emergency medical services, sheriffs, police departments, etc. 

Here are some of the places where we’ve recently donated to help with purchasing a drone, new fire engine plus much-needed gear and rescue vehicles.  

Osceola, Arkansas 

With a mission to save lives and property, the Osceola, Arkansas, Fire Department needed help with search and rescue operations for its service area in Mississippi County, the largest county in the state.  

Located in the state’s northeast corner and along the banks of the Mississippi River, the community was lacking equipment that would allow firefighters to work in extreme conditions and provide visual aid from above. Thanks to a grant from the BNSF Railway Foundation, that need was recently met in the form of an unmanned drone. 

“We're very thankful for this generous donation that’s allowed us to purchase a cutting-edge drone,” Captain and Public Safety Officer Fred Hendrix said. “This drone is going to greatly enhance our firefighting capabilities, and it’s truly a game-changer.”  

The drone is equipped with high-definition cameras, thermal imaging capability and advanced mapping features. 

“This is going to give incident command a bird's eye view, allow them to fully assess the situation and make better informed decisions with safety being the overall priority,” Hendrix added. “The real value of the drone lies in the lives it is going to save.” 

Circle City-Morristown, Arizona 

In railroad language, a turnout is a type of track, also known as a switch, that allows a train to change direction. But in fire-fighter speak, a turnout is the personal protective equipment (PPE) used by firefighters. The BNSF Railway Foundation recently awarded funds to purchase four full sets of turnouts for the Circle City-Morristown, Arizona, firefighters.  

“The safety of our staff and community is our top priority,” Harry Dame, fire chief, said. “Our district has a portion of BNSF tracks that runs through it. We work closely with BNSF to train and be ready for an emergency involving their railcars. The PPE purchased with this donation is required in an emergency involving BNSF.” 

As a small rural department with a challenged budget, Dame noted they are becoming more and more reliant on donations and grants. 

“We strive to make our department safer and continue its commitment to protecting the health and safety of our firefighters, community and mutual aid partners. Awards such as this one from BNSF allow us to do that and we are very grateful for their continued support!”  

Surrey, North Dakota 

Like most rural communities, while the population is small, the need for lifesaving equipment is still great. 

Located near Minot, North Dakota, the Surrey Fire Protection District had a significant need for a new fire engine to replace one that was nearly 30 years old. Thanks to a BNSF Railway Foundation grant, that new engine has been purchased. 

“This helps our relationship grow with BNSF with being able to offer better and reliable services in our community but also at Gavin Yard [in Minot] when needed, considering we are neighbors,” said Jordan Mauro, chief of the all-volunteer department. “Our small city of Surrey has two major lines coming out of the yard and having additional resources in our fire station in case of an emergency is a major improvement to our abilities.  We thank BNSF for the grant and helping us to afford this newer fire engine to add to our arsenal of apparatus,” Mauro added.  

Minatare, Nebraska 

Not far from Alliance, Nebraska, one of our major facilities in the state, a Foundation grant helped this local volunteer fire department with funds to update its side-by-side ATV.   

“We use this side-by-side for events such as motocross and stock car races when we transport patients off the track to be able to get them to the ambulance,” explained Austin Descharme, a BNSF conductor and member of the fire department. “With this money we were able to get a skid that has a seat for our EMT and also a spot to strap down a back board with a patient on it.” 

In addition to the ATV updates, the department will be using the rest of the grant to update some equipment on Minatare’s ambulance. 

“BNSF trains run through our district and a grant like this is very important to our department to help with updates to keep our members and our community safe,” Descharme added. 


To all the first responders who serve and protect our communities in times of need, thank you for answering the call! 

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