Volunteer fire departments ready for grass fires

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Potwin, Kan. (KSNW) – The Potwin fire department is all volunteer. So the chief says with continued dry conditions, they are making sure they are ready to fight grass fires.

“Well, we’ve sure had our share of them that’s for sure,” says Potwin Fire Chief, Heath Austin. “But we… keep organized and just having staff? Being a volunteer department, all of us have paying jobs and some of us work night shifts, some of us work day shift. So today I’m probably going to be the only one in town if we have a call. “

As  Austin checks over the tanker trucks and the fire gear for crews, he has a visitor. Mark Waclawski is a deputy with the Butler County Sheriff’s Department.

“We’re always out in the community on all the roads, kind of keeping an eye out on things, for everything,” says Waclawski. “If we see a wildfire, obviously we call these guys. At that point our job becomes checking buildings, making sure they are cleared, nobody is in harm’s way. And then, securing the areas as best we can.”

Chief Austin says he appreciates the assist. But, he adds, he’s also grateful for the meetings he has with other fire chiefs in the area.

“As for wildfires, we’re talking about it constantly. We have quarterly fire chiefs meetings that we talk about and we’ve got task force meetings where each half of the county has a task force that’s set up with all the departments,” says Austin. “And we meet once a month and talk about that and strategies and different things and get some community training.”

Austin says he would like more volunteers, but says they keep training the staff they have. And, they always thank the people who do volunteer for fighting fires.

“When I first started I took over as fire chief in 1999. and some of the first fires I went on actually brought me some members onto the department. And they stayed on for quite a while,” says Austin. “But part of the problem with volunteerism especially in a small community, is we maybe only average 70 calls a year. I think they get bored and they think, I’m investing all this time and I’m not getting anything out of it.”

But Austin says those who do volunteer get quite a bit out of helping the community.

“Sure, we will continue to talk about training, and we have to,” says Austin. “But the volunteers make it happen.”

Austin says the community enjoys having lower insurance rates by having a fire department in town. And, he says, they keep training.

“We are ready,” says Austin. “We always are.”

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