Kansas firefighters are stretched thin as grass fires continue

By Santiago Kahn
KSN - March 27, 2017




Another community is dealing with the remnants of a grass fire.

One in Seward County Thursday night was about a mile wide and burned about four miles.

Fire departments across Kansas are stretched thin, after massive grass fires swept through the region in recent weeks.

“We sent two trucks to Beaver County to assist them,” said Seward County Fire Chief Andrew Barkley about the recent devastating fires. “We sent one truck to Minneola to assist them that afternoon, and 30 minutes after that truck left for that county we got hit here in our county.”

Most firefighters in Seward County are volunteers. The department was only able to bring on two full-time crew members this year.

“We did some pretty good budget cuts to make that happen this year,” said Barkley. “We’re in the process of trying to add additional staff to all our fire stations during the day.”

The chief wants each of the county’s three fire stations to have two firefighters present on duty at all times. He says they could then respond to fires faster, stop them while they’re small, and help ease fatigue.

Barkley responded to a grass fire about 24 hours ago – one that he and his crews are still fighting.

“You get exhausted,” he said, “but there’s a bigger picture here. We’re protecting property. We’re protecting the livelihoods of farmers.”

He says tired crews are just facing the beginning of what will be an intense fire season.

“The moisture last year that we got,” he said, “everything was beautiful and green. It’s grown, and now we have no moisture at all and everything is drying out.”

The fires make it hard for him to find time to relax, but when he does, he says his pleasures are simple.

“Sitting on the couch,” he said with a laugh. “That’s pretty much it.”

The chief would like to see a property tax increase to help staff the fire department, but that will be up to the Seward County commission to decide.