Fire Chief at 'Loss for Words' After Man, 91, Donates $500K

Sam Sloan hands over a fat check to cash-strapped volunteer fire department in Missouri
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 17, 2024 7:57 AM CDT
Donation From Missouri Man, 91, Saves Fire Department
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/stevenmaltby)

When Mark Hardin, fire chief for Missouri's Calhoun Volunteer Fire Department, saw last month that the department's bank account had dwindled to just $169, he wasn't sure what he was going to do next, as his firefighters were struggling to do their jobs with decades-old gear. "I probably shouldn't tell how much of our own money we've spent," Hardin tells the Washington Post. "My wife would divorce me." Then, in stepped 91-year-old Sam Sloan, with a donation of $500,000 to help the fire department get back on its feet. More on the surprise gift:

  • First contact: Hardin, who grew the department from one volunteer to more than two dozen since he took over in 2021, says he got a call in early April from Sloan wanting to meet for breakfast, where he peppered Hardin with questions about the department. Another breakfast soon followed, and then, at a third meeting, Sloan pulled out a check for half a mil, made out to the fire department just 2 miles from his home. "I've never seen a check with so many zeros," Hardin says, adding, "I was at a loss for words."

  • Why: Sloan says he'd made a promise years ago, after he'd retired from his successful career in the cattle and seed processing industry, to one day fork over some cash to the fire department. "It's a small community, and I knew how much money they had each year to work with," he tells NBC News. He adds, to the Post: "Whatever amount of money the ... department had, I knew it wasn't enough."
  • Future plans: With Sloan's cash, the fire department hopes to purchase three new firetrucks and protective gear for the firefighters, to replace some equipment that's been around since the '80s. "Our tanker pumper has been patched together about 17 times in the last year," Hardin tells KMBC. Some of their old gear will be donated to other local rural fire departments in even more dire straits.
  • Sloan: He's now been made an honorary fire chief with the department, complete with fire chief helmet, and he has just two other final asks: He wants the firefighters to celebrate with a community barbecue once they get their new uniforms, as well as for the department to lead his eventual funeral procession.
(More uplifting news stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.