There are some issues that are so important that they require we simply cut to the chase. This is one of those issues.
Kiowa County must have a fire district.
The 4 fire chiefs and volunteer firefighters are doing an exemplary job with what they have available, but, frankly, what they have available simply isn’t enough. Creating a fire district along with the funding that fire district brings would greatly help to close the gap between the resources they currently have and what they need to do the job safely and well.
In the absence of a fire district, those men and women will have to continue fighting fires in the best way they can, which is most certainly admirable. However, it is also a situation potentially loaded with risk for all involved, and that risk extends to everyone in different ways, from the property owner to the volunteers who are working the fire.
Currently, including the fire departments in all three towns (Eads, Haswell and Sheridan Lake) plus the county, there are 37 people listed as volunteer firefighters with 21 of them described as active. When these firefighters are called to a fire, each person should go into the situation equipped with up to date gear and equipment that not only helps them do the job but keeps them safe in the process.
That isn’t happening right now. For example, the suits firefighters wear to a fire are guaranteed effective for a 15 year period, after which time the fire retardant applied to the material begins to deteriorate and the suit becomes no longer effective. Some of the suits currently used were purchased more than 15 years ago. In fact, one volunteer on the East End uses a suit that was purchased in 1988. In other words, that suit “expired” almost 15 years ago, yet that is the only suit available for the firefighter to wear.
One of the major hazards in fighting a fire is the toxic environment created by fighting combustible materials. The most common risks involve smoke, oxygen deficiency, poisonous gases and intense heat. For this reason, each firefighter should also have a breathing apparatus to use. That isn’t happening, either.
According to Fire Chief Kraft, there are 18 volunteers with the Eads Fire Department, yet there are only 4 breathing apparatuses available. That means that, in a situation loaded with potential hazards related to breathing, 80% of the crew does not have any device to protect them.
Due to the potential danger involved in the job, firefighters typically go through extensive training to prepare them to deal with those hazards they could potentially encounter. There simply is no opportunity for that to happen with Kiowa County firefighters because the funds aren’t there to send them to whatever training they might need.
Throughout the years, the people who have volunteered with the KCFD have done a remarkable job of “making do” with what they have. Their creativity and resourcefulness are truly things to be admired, and they have done more with less than most people are aware. But, more and more, their hands are being tied by rules and regulations developed at the national level that prohibit them from “making do”. The move—both for safety and legal reasons—is to increasingly push fire departments toward the purchase of equipment that has been developed specifically for use in fires. It should also come as no surprise that the equipment they must now buy—versus going with what they’ve created—is expensive, requiring funds that the current department simply doesn’t have.
It’s no doubt that people in the county are overwhelmingly in support of providing the fire department with all that’s needed to do the job. The last election proved that. However, by just a narrow vote, the funding to provide what’s needed was voted down. It sort of goes without saying…we can’t have one without the other.
In November, the initiative will appear on this year’s ballot again, and the public will be provided with a second opportunity to vote in a fire district. When considering the fire in Chivington last summer, the fires that have happened on several residents’ property and, worse of all, the potential damage that could happen as a result of a wildfire that’s spread to include large areas of land, the small increase in taxes more than outweighs the benefit of making certain that those who fight fires on our behalf are provided with all they need to do the job.
That means that less than 2 dozen people are responsible for—on their own time and without compensation—protecting an area of land that is 78 miles long and 24 miles wide or roughly 1700 square miles. That is one firefighter for every 80 square miles. Some people might, understandably, respond by saying, “Well, the whole county isn’t going to be on fire at one time.”
Tell that to the people of Clark County in Kansas.