Compact membership would have brought fire help faster

By Mary Clarkin
Hutchinson News - March 14, 2017


Last year as menacing wildfires from Oklahoma encroached into south-central Kansas, the Hutchinson-based Rodney Redinger, fire training specialist with the Kansas Forest Service, was on the phone with the incident commander from Oklahoma.


The Oklahoman offered aerial firefighting resources for free, but Kansas is not in a multistate firefighting compact and that nixed the offer.


Kansas is one of five states that does not belong to a multistate firefighting compact. This isn't the first year the legislature has floated a bill to put Kansas in a compact but this might be the year it happens.


Earlier this session, the Kansas House passed House Bill 2140 to allow Kansas to join the Great Plains Interstate Fire Compact. The bill came before the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee Tuesday. The committee is expected to discuss the bill's wording and vote on it Wednesday.


"We were fortunate to not have any significant injuries to firefighters associated with the Anderson Creek fire (of 2016) or the fires of this year,"  Redinger said in his testimony. He was incident commander in the Anderson Creek fire in Barber County in 2016.


If Kansas was in a compact, outside help could have happened "much quicker" in fighting recent fires. Heavy reliance on local firefighters and volunteers battling persistent fires exposes them to risks simply from fatigue, Redinger said.


He told legislators being in a compact streamlines the process of soliciting outside aid. The Kansas state forester makes a call to another state forester, he said.


In 2016, "resources were already on the fire in Oklahoma, but could not be utilized in our state due to no agreement being in place. This compact will help to enhance the ability of the Kansas Forest Service to request resources into our state from neighboring jurisdictions," said Kevin Flory, president of the Kansas State Firefighters Association, in his testimony.


Kansas would be in the same compact that includes Colorado and Nebraska and other states, but not Oklahoma, which is in a southern compact. Kansas and Oklahoma could share resources just as long as Kansas is in a compact, legislators were told.


The state that benefits from help is expected to make reimbursement. Legislators had questions about the potential costs, and Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, asked if it could be financial drain if Kansas was on the giving side more than the receiving side. 


"We would not be on the giving side more than the receiving side," Redinger said.