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  • Last modified 15 days ago (Nov. 1, 2018)

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Firefighting task force pushing forward

Staff writer

Marion County’s firefighting task force is a budding program, but it is quickly gaining traction.

There are four county departments involved, but more have shown interest. According to Lincolnville fire chief Les Kaiser, almost all departments in the county plan to pledge manpower or trucks.

The force makes it easier when departments from other counties need additional help.

Instead of sending individual requests for 20 trucks to aid a department, the state emergency operations center can send a call for three task forces. That way they get three forces with six or seven trucks each, Kaiser said.

“Along with these six trucks, you’re sending a command element,” he said. “It’s going to be beneficial all around.”

The state requested each county create a cooperative task force pulling from local departments.

Though the state request is for a task force, the unit is solely allowed to deal with wildfires and related matters. What they can do to assist civilians is suggest safety measures.

Precautions include properly maintaining brush and not using propane tanks as garden decoration, Peabody firefighter Bailey Penner said.

The force helps individual departments too. Having a defined structure helps track resources and prevents departments from overlapping or being cut off, Peabody chief Mark Penner said.

“You remain together, that’s the good thing about it,” he said. “They don’t separate you or put you in different spots.”

Firefighters from Marion County work together more often for jobs within the county, so they know how the others work and teamwork is easier, Mark Penner said.

The group comes at no additional cost to the towns or county, since the fire departments get grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Requests can come in from across the state, which means the departments need communicators that aren’t limited by distance.

“Last year was the first year we did that and it worked pretty well,” Mark Penner said. “The 800 MHz radio we have can go all over the state. We can get on a frequency that’s not being used and communicate, whether we’re going to Medicine Lodge or Rice County.”

Oversight of the collaboration is handled by the county, but the task force teams themselves are called when there is an emergency.

A department isn’t required to respond to a call, and there are a few reasons they might not. Peak wildfire season coincides with growing season, so many firefighters are preoccupied with farming.

“With volunteer departments, everybody has a job,” Kaiser said. “Farmers might be out in the field harvesting or planting.”

They also might not go if there aren’t enough firefighters to have others at the department in case of emergency.

In addition to the practices, the firefighters’ gear is different from for a standard fire.

Gear includes hard hats, fire-resistant leather boots, and lighter-weight clothing.

These factors, as well as the chain of command and equipment are called fire science, which is quickly gaining importance.

“In the task force, it’s the way of the future,” Peabody assistant chief Scott Rose said. “Fire science is always evolving.”

Last modified Nov. 1, 2018

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