Emergency Manager wants ranchers’, farmers’ input

By Tammy Helm
Fort Scott Tribune – April 7, 2015

During March 2014, Bourbon County District 3 fire department volunteers responded to 88 fire calls.

“We’ve already topped that and they are becoming more severe,” Delwin Mumbower, District 3 fire chief, said.

He attended the Monday Bourbon County Commission meeting with Bourbon County Emergency Manager William Wallis to report on what they believe might be a solution to getting grass fires under control.

Ranchers, farmers and any other interested individuals are invited to attend a meeting at 6 p.m. April 20 to discuss organizing a burn association. The location of the meeting was not been determined as of Monday morning.

Wallis recommended before any policy is written, he and other officials get input from farmers and ranchers during the April 20 meeting.

Wallis said fire chiefs have been meeting monthly to discuss issues other topics. Sometimes the meetings are lasting two to three hours.

“Which is good because there’s good conversation,” Wallis said.

He said the idea of a burn association is the product of those meetings.

“To stop things from things like we heard this morning,” Wallis said.

He said a road grader operator had reported a tree that was still on fire from a “controlled” burn beneath a power line.

“People just set these fires and leave,” Wallis said.

He said that’s what happened when oil tanks caught fire on March 12. He said the most recent estimate is the fire cost Running Fox, owner of the tanks, more than $60,000.

“That’s going to be a court battle, you may or may not hear about,” Wallis said.

He said during a lunch with the president of Running Fox, they talked about the need for getting people to be responsible when burning.

“One of these days, it’s going to cost somebody their life, or their home, and possibly them in it,” Wallis said. “What happens is these fires refuel.”

Wallis said he is not called out to small grass fires, but he has been called out twice this year.

“When I’m called out, it’s serious,” Wallis said. “I have to turn it into the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), especially that one that burnt all that oil.”

He said last year, fire fighters had to return to the scene of the fire with air packs because the fumes were so bad.

“We have volunteer firemen out there, and they’re going to start dropping like flies or quitting if they don’t get some kind of support,” Wallis said.

He said a burn association would give private citizens a place to go to when they need to burn.

“We don’t want to enforce a burn ban, but the biggest help to them, to the volunteer departments, is to know when they’re going to burn and where,” Wallis said.

People are encouraged to call the county dispatch to notify of their plans to burn.

“We’re not telling them no,” Wallis said.

He also said some who need to burn work during the week and have limited time to burn their fields. Wallis said he “feels” for the farmers, but also for the volunteers who are putting in long hours.

“Our biggest fear is not being available,” Mumbower said. “Two weeks ago, we went to 21 calls and it was 20 hours before those people got back. How long can those same people keep that up?”

Commission Chair Barbara Albright said she hopes that people would at least contact dispatchers to report when and where they are burning, and for someone in dispatch to tell people whether it is safe to burn. That isn’t possible, according to Mumbower.

“I would love the dispatchers to have the authority to say no,” Mumbower said.

Wallis said he at least would like to provide dispatchers with a list of questions to ask the caller.

Mumbower said the biggest problem he sees is people don’t have the “adequate means” to control their fires.

“Where we’re coming from, is if we can out and identify — I’ll go out and identify combustible items,” Wallis said.

Mumbower said the ideal time to burn is when winds are between 5 and 15 mph because at that speed, the wind does not change directions.

For more information about the meeting, or to participate, contact Wallis at 223-3800, extension 124.

Other Emergency Management business

* Wallis said he will have a booth at the Home Show from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m to 3 p.m. Saturday to allow people to learn about and sign up for the new emergency alert system, Code Red.

The system sends alerts out via cell phones any time there is an emergency in the county.

* Wallis also reported he has completed his training and is now a Kansas certified emergency manager, which was one of the requirements for being hired in Bourbon County.

* The Emergency Management office organized a table-top exercise at Garland on March 28. Wallis said responders from each rural and city departments participated.

“It turned out good,” Wallis said.

One of the qualifications for receiving state emergency funding is to conduct two exercises each year. Wallis said besides the March 28 exercise, the county held a live training in October at the Fort Scott Municipal Airport.

After each exercise, an after-action report and an improvement plan must be submitted to the state. He currently is working on those reports.

He said one issues with the Garland area is the need for better communication. He said, as an example, he had made arrangements for lunch, but on the day of the exercise, when he stepped outside to call about the lunch with his cell phone, it took five attempts before he could get good cell phone service.

He said the lack of cell phone service in the Garland area is “critical.”

He said he and the Garland Fire Chief Connie May are working on mitigation and an evacuation plan for the area in case there was ever a train derailment that required a widespread evacuation. Wallis said he is asking May to learn which residents are home during the day and which still use landlines.

He said the “whole exercise, as a whole, went well.”

* Wallis said he’s had a lot of questions about whether the county will reschedule a storm spotter class.

Originally, a class was scheduled for March 12, but had to be postponed because Wallis and his staff responded to an out-of-control grass fire that ignited oil tanks along 135th Street south of Soldier Road.

The class is conducted by staff from the National Weather Service in Springfield, Mo. Because NWS books classes in advance, Wallis said he waiting to hear when the next available date will be.

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