Volunteer Fire Department protects Chase County

By Jennifer Laird
Chase County Leader News – April 3, 2014
Submitted by Newz Group Clipping Service – April 28, 2014

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The smell of fire cannot be escaped here in the 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.

No one in the county is exempt from the nervous, heart-sinking feeling that takes hold upon hearing the local fire engine sirens make their way from the station.

On board those vehicles are members of our own families, dear friends and fellow coworkers. 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 Firefighter 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,” remarked Peterson.

The local business community also plays their part in contributing to the cohesive collaboration of local firefighting efforts. With the fire crew being made up of local volunteers, the need for firefighters 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 firefighters work tirelessly to keep the county safe, being reimbursed less than six dollars an hour.

The lack of monetary reimbursement, however, has not detoured 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 firefighters 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 was also extremely 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 firefighters.

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

“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 many more out of control fires.

The safety of our local volunteer firemen and women, and local farmers and ranchers is on the line. The need for mindfulness and careful planning is crucial this season in order to keep what we value most safe.

Gwen Romine, KSFFA Webmaster