Volunteer fire department protects Chase County

A grass fire was reported in Chase County Wednesday afternoon near Roads 150 and 50. Photo by Dustin Michelson.

A grass fire was reported in Chase County Wednesday afternoon near Roads 150 and 50. Photo by Dustin Michelson.

By Jennifer Laird
Emporia Gazette – April 5, 2014

 

The smell of fire cannot be escaped in Chase County over the past several weeks.

Wafts of smoke can be viewed from county roadways and an occasional sighting of the bright orange flames have become a regular occurrence throughout Chase County and the surrounding area.

The members of the Chase County Fire Department are volunteers who put their lives on the line, sometimes daily, at all hours of the day or night, to protect the land, livestock, homes and lives of those living in the county and surrounding areas.

The volunteer fire department is comprised of six stations within the county and is overseen by Fire Chief Mark Davis. The 45 firefighters are members of the Chase County volunteer fire department. They range in age and experience. Some are new volunteers; others have been in service for more than 40 years.

Twice a month, the team assembles for training meetings, along with the continual on-the-job training that can only take place in the field.

“Most of our training is just ‘hands on’ experience,” said Davis.

The fire department members do a lot of their own maintenance on the trucks, spending time at the meetings going over the vehicles, making sure everything is in good working condition and becoming familiar with the equipment.

“Some of our members are fire fighter 1 and 2 certified, plus we have members that have associate degrees in fire science and each one of these certified members help teach the new members how to safely protect our county,” said Davis.

The fire season this year has been extreme and has kept the volunteers on their toes both day and night.

“This fire season has started off with a bang,” said Davis. “We are approximately half-way through the burning season and most of the ranchers haven’t started burning yet. I’d say approximately 15,000 acres burned in fires that we were called out to control.”

“As time permits,” said Davis, “the fire department also helps individuals with some controlled burns during the fire season.”

Like many things in Chase County, the supportive community reaches out with a helping hand when neighbors are in need. Fires are no exception to that rural county’s ‘unwritten rule.’

“Several area ranchers help during local fires,” said fireman Tim Peterson. “They are good with working with us.”

Local ranchers from both Chase County and the surrounding area have been known to assist with pasture fires without even being asked.

“Their assistance is greatly appreciated,” said Peterson.

The local business community also plays their part in contributing to the cohesive collaboration of local fire fighting efforts. With the fire crew being made up of local volunteers, the need for fire fighters to leave their jobs at a moment’s notice requires flexibility and understanding from area businesses.

“A lot of businesses will release an employee that volunteers for the fire department, that is extremely helpful,” said Peterson.

With their lives on the line each time a call comes in, the fire fighters work tirelessly to keep the county safe, being reimbursed less than six dollars an hour.

Chase county fire fighters are paid twice a year at a rate of $5.60 an hour, according to Chase County Clerk Brande Studer.

The lack of monetary reimbursement, however, has not deterred new recruits from joining the department.

“Quite a few new young men, maybe five or six around the county have signed up recently,” said Studer.

With what little gratitude the fire fighters have to fill up their wallets the community attempts to make up for with heart-felt thanks.

“The commission really appreciates all of the help from the fire department, local ranchers, and the local sheriff’s department,” said Commissioner JC McNee when asked about the recent local fires.

Chase County resident Ellie Burrows said she is grateful to the fire crew for their assistance with an out-of-control fire on her property several weeks ago.

“I had burned a small amount of trash earlier in the day and I thought I had it completely extinguished,” said Burrows. “The fire must have started from a small ember.”

According to Burrows, there was no wind that day and the ember from the small trash fire ignited the surrounding area and spread quickly.

“The fire started small, but spread fast,” said Burrows. “I realized I needed help.”

After placing a call to 911, ‘the trucks came quickly,’ according to Burrows.

“By the time things were under control, there were several trucks and many men contributing,” Burrows said. “Mark Davis made the wise move to back-burn to prevent the spread of fire.”

According to Burrows, “all the workers worked fast without question or comment about me being careless.”

“I felt really indebted to them,” Burrows added. “I had been scared, but they got me through a bad situation.”

Burrows was not alone in her praise for the quick response and selfless actions of the volunteer fire fighters.

John and Mary Roniger had recently placed a thank-you ad, in the Chase County Leader-News, in gratitude for the assistance they were given.

With fires on the rise during pasture burning season, there are vital rules that the community can follow.

“Anyone burning, whether it’s a brush pile in your back yard or a pasture, should call the Chase County Sheriff’s Department at 620-273-6313 prior to starting a fire,” said Davis. “The sheriff’s office will advise you as to whether conditions are right for a safe fire.”

Davis would like to remind everyone that as of April 1, the only burning allowed is for agricultural purposes.

According to Davis, “That means there is no burning of brush piles, yard waste, nor recreational fires.”

The ban is in effect the full month of April. No permits to burn for these purposes will be allowed pursuant to state law.

“The Chase County Fire Department has responded to 22 fires in the last 10 days,” said Davis. “The combination of heavy grass and dry conditions are making this a very difficult burning season.”

The county sheriff’s department report reflects the number of pasture burns that have recently rekindled over the past week.

“Rekindling is the cause for the majority of our runs,” said Davis. “When calling in to burn, ask the dispatcher for the wind conditions for the next 24 hours. If they are going to be extreme please reconsider.”

Davis also advises to use extreme caution when preparing for a burn. Some suggestions are to double your manpower and equipment from past years.

“We know you need to burn. We do not want to implement any additional burn bans but safety is our number one concern,” said Davis.

With the long-lasting effects of last year’s drought and the recent high winds, the county is susceptible to more fires.

The safety of local volunteer fire fighters as well as people and property is all at risk during this season. The need for mindfulness and careful planning is crucial; local, trained officials are available to help.

Gwen Romine, KSFFA Webmaster