to fire sparks confusion
Marion County’s Wildland Task Force saw its first action this year on Saturday when it responded to help fight a large fire near Burrton. Ramona fire chief Nathan Brunner was confused when not all departments from Marion County were requested.
Brunner said he was under the impression the taskforce had to respond as a unit, not by just a few handpicked departments.
“I know the other decision that has played a part is that taskforce leaders want to make sure we don’t just send all kinds of departments out of our county to help another county and leave other areas in our county uncovered or short-staffed,” he said. “I can tell you that before I even made the decision as a chief to send to Ramona, I made sure we had other personnel who were in town and available.”
While several departments responded from the southern portion of Marion County, Goessel assistant fire chief Matt Voth said the call to respond wasn’t targeted at a specific area. Hillsboro Fire Department, for one, was sent home shortly after being called, he said.
The fire danger in Marion County and the resources and firefighters each department had both factored into which ones were called out, according to Voth, who collaborated with emergency manager Randy Frank to determine which departments to use.
“These all are factors we have to take into consideration,” he said. “Our number one priority is that we cannot leave Marion County hanging.”
The task force also limits how many trucks it sends from a department, not using more than one grass truck from any one department.
“For your district, what can you spare?” Voth said. “Because none of the departments have any real extra trucks.”
Many of those details are discussed in person instead of on radios, listening to scanners doesn’t always tell the full story, Voth said.
“Every one is very different, every deployment possibility,” he said. “What you hear on the fire pager or what comes over the radio is accurate, but it doesn’t represent any of the leg-work done behind the scenes. At that point all the leg-work already should be done.”
The massive fire consumed thousands of acres, but Voth said it could have been worse.
“This is the third time in my 23-year fire career that I’ve been over to Burrton,” he said. “This fire was controlled quickest out of any of those three fires. That’s the stuff you don’t hear about on the news, and there wasn’t a single house lost in this fire.”
Many departments in the county are members of the task force, including Marion, Hillsboro, Ramona, Goessel, and several others. Each department’s chief decides whether they want to join, Voth said.
Brunner started as Ramona’s fire chief this past year, and he initially doubted the department had the availability to be a full-time participant in the task force.
“I don’t think we were in a position to offer mutual aid for the taskforce,” Brunner said. “We have sent people out before, but I think we were pretty short-staffed. I think we’re in a little better supply right now, and moving forward we have the personnel.”
Last modified Nov. 19, 2020