By Michael J. Sellman
Junction City News – March 15, 2017
Four of Junction City’s firefighters assisted in fighting the grass fire in Reno County last week.
The Hutchinson Emergency Operations Center requested a brush truck — a one ton Ford F350 fire truck designed with a tank and pump used to fight brush and grass fires, especially in off road areas — and personnel.
“We were notified Tuesday morning by the State Emergency Operations Center that some help was needed,” Junction City Fire Chief Terry Johnson said.
He had a long list of firefighters who wanted to go.
“And I wish I could have sent them,” he said.
But the first responding crew — Jeremy Sutton and Caleb Johnson — were sent. And then a second crew — Josh Allen and Tyler Ross — were sent afterwards.
They were picked as Johnson wanted to match up senior members of the department with junior members.
“That way we have a mixed level of experience to gain exposure to that whole process,” he said.
They were right in the middle of the flames, working under a unified command as all agencies represented by the firefighters they send work under one operation.
“They got to work with a lot of different people,” Johnson said. “They got to work with the national guard, other fire departments and forestry.”
Twenty counties were affected by wildfires that burned more than 651,000 acres across the state.
One death was attributed to the fires due to smoke inhalation and 11 injuries were reported. According to initial damage reports, more than 40 homes were destroyed along with an unknown number of outbuildings. One bridge in Meade County and three bridges in Clark County were also destroyed in addition to miles of fencing, utility poles and other structures. An unknown number of livestock were also killed.
However, fighting the Reno County fire gave the city’s firefighters experience which they don’t normally receive as fires of this size rarely happen.
“We need to have some people with experience to go in and understand what the whole operation is like,” Johnson said. “What we’re going to be doing on the fireside will be over in a small corner of this huge process.”
With several emergency agencies working together to fight such a large blaze, it’s import to have a system in place to get groups what they need (especially water) when and where they need it.
“That’s what this is all about. Taking the resources that come in, and matching them up with the need that you have,” Johnson said. With the JCFD’s brush truck, they were matched with a team that can do those things in keeping the fire away from structures, or looking for hot spots to extinguish.
The first operation crew worked 12 hours, then took 12 hours off and then returned for another 12 hours before being switched out for another crew.
The brush truck could only haul two at a time.
“We’re hoping to improve that process and change some things up,” Johnson said. “But it worked out pretty well. Our guys stepped up, and I had plenty of guys that wanted to. But that’s really, really impressive.”
An emergency is usually unexpected. If the JCFD can lend its assistance, it shows how Midwest Kansas helps its neighbor without asking for anything in return.
“I’m very proud of our people. They have not disappointed one bit. They are very good firefighters,” he said.