Volunteer firefighters: underfunded, undermanned – and first line of defense

By Oliver Morrison
Wichita Eagle – April 18, 2017

Photo by Bo Rader

Kansas has struggled to protect itself from massive wildfires for two years in a row.

On March 6, Englewood, a typically small, underfunded fire department, had only five trucks, two of which broke down, as more than a dozen houses in town burned to the ground.

Now, volunteer firefighters who make up 90 percent of the state’s firefighters say they need additional funding.

Kansas spends less at the state level on firefighting than almost any state, about $300,000. So when the biggest fire in the state was burning through Clark County in March, Kansas didn’t have any resources to send to help local firefighters.

Local departments are in the best position to stop these fires before they get large, said Brian Hind, who has been a volunteer firefighter for more than 25 years in Greenwood County. The Starbuck fire on March 6 burned more than 450,000 acres in Kansas after burning nearly 200,000 acres in Oklahoma. Once the fire got going, “I doubt there was enough firetrucks if all the trucks in the state of Kansas would’ve gotten into it,” Hind said.

It’s up to the local departments, like the one in Greenwood County, which can respond quickly and which have the best chance at preventing wildfires from getting out of hand.

“A grassfire moves fast,” Hind said. “The biggest fire we’ve ever had was 30,000 acres, and it was a six-hour deal. So when do you pull the trigger on when the state is going to help you? You don’t have two or three days; normally, you’re talking hours.”

The ability to fight fires has become increasingly precarious, just as the fire danger in Kansas appears to be worsening.

A presentation last year at the state firefighter’s convention highlighted the two biggest risks to firefighters: heart attacks from overexertion and vehicle accidents. Many of the volunteer firefighters are not in shape and are driving equipment that easily breaks down.

The problem is that local departments don’t have the resources or manpower they need.

“You have to look at the population of the state, especially in the rural communities, the volunteer base isn’t there,” said Kevin Flory, president of the Kansas State Firefighters Association. “So manpower is a problem. The funding isn’t there, there is less tax base. So it’s getting harder and harder for these small communities to adequately fund these departments.”

Read more here: http://www.kansas.com/news/state/article145126769.html#storylink=cpy


Posted by Gwen Dorr Romine, KSFFA Webmaster
KSFFA’s Fire News Blog Home Page

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