Fire departments across the country are dealing with the same problem -- a decline in volunteer firefighters.

Here in Oklahoma, work is being done not only to increase volunteers, but more importantly to retain them.

When fires rage, oftentimes it's volunteer firefighters like Sheri Nickel who respond. Rural communities depending on these men and women to save their lives and property. 

"Fire doesn't know the difference between a volunteer firefighter or a paid firefighter. We're doing the same thing," Nickel said.

Sadly, volunteers like Nickel are getting tougher to find. 

"People just don't want to do things for free anymore like they used to," Nickel said.

There's no pay, no steady hours, and the work is grueling.

"We do the best we can with what we have to do it with, and that's just kind of the motto," Nickel said.

Oklahoma State Firefighters Association is now working to keep this line of work afloat with a $2.2 million grant. The money will be used to pay for research, gear and training. 

"It's our belief that a well-trained firefighter is going to stay on a department longer than someone who is just doing it for the free T-shirt and the stickers on their truck," Nickel said.

According to NFPA, 70 percent of firefighters nationwide are volunteers, and about 85 percent of departments were either all-volunteer or mostly volunteer.