Firefighters are being tested more than usual this Summer

“Over the 22 years that I have been here I have seen it hot and dry, but this seems to be extraordinary,”
Published: Jul. 20, 2021 at 3:22 PM MDT
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TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) —With triple-digit temperatures popping up all around the Magic Valley, firefighters are being tested more than usual this summer.

“Over the 22 years that I have been here I have seen it hot and dry, but this seems to be extraordinary,” said Twin Falls Fire Department Battalion Chief Mitchell Brooks.

He also said the conditions are so extreme outside that his station has had to change its training schedule. Crews train early in the morning and finish by noon before it gets too hot.

“Otherwise it’s just dangerous. Sometimes we will have to train at night just to get a training session in,” Brooks said.

Due to the drought conditions, he said his department’s calls for service are up about 15 percent from last year. Rock Creek Fire Protection District’s calls are up 12 percent.

“This year is more of a repeat of last year, just to a worse extent. Temperatures are higher. Drought conditions are prolonged,” said Rock Creek Fire Chief Aaron Zent. “Our fuels are drier. Fire behavior is going to be a lot more rapid than it was last year, and we are just expecting a busier fire season than we had last year,

He said with the increased fire danger there is more potential for firefighters to get hurt or injured due to crews exerting more energy to contain quick-moving fires. A fire can spread literally hundreds of yards in just a matter of minutes depending on wind and fuel conditions.

“When fire spreads at a rapid rate it is more dangerous because you really can’t attack the fire from the front. It is indirect or a side attack. You are always trying to catch up to it and not trying to get in front of it,” Zent said.

With the extreme conditions, more resources are needed so firefighters can be rotated in and out on fires, and get adequate relief from the heat. Brooks said right now his department is relying on neighboring departments to come in and give assistance so they can have more firefighters on scene.

“It takes more crew, more firefighters to put out the same size of fire when it’s hotter and drier as it is now,” Zent said.

Brooks said fire departments have a “two bottle policy” for firefighters on scene. The oxygen tanks firefighters carry are 45-minute bottles, but with the heat and added stress, those bottles do not last 45 minutes. They typically last between 15 to 20 minutes. When they come out for a bottle change, if they are fatigued or dehydrated they will be pulled and checked by the paramedics.

“We will typically on our larger incidents have a medical unit from Magic Valley Paramedics, and we use the paramedics to monitor our firefighters to make sure they are keeping hydrated and their vitals are at a rate of where they should be,” Zent said.

Firefighters are being tested more than usual this Summer
Firefighters are being tested more than usual this Summer(SK)

Brooks said in the end it really boils down to training, physical fitness, and being aggressive when we can be, so they can get fires contained as quickly as possible.

Right now the fire departments can also use help from the community. People burning in their backyard has been an issue for crews, and because there is so much potential for that to get out of control and cause problems they are recommending people restrict it as much as possible.

They also recommend that people pay attention to the weather conditions and fire restrictions, and be extremely careful when smoking outside.

“If you are smoking make sure you are on the pavement. Make sure you are on the sidewalk or somewhere that you don’t have the opportunity to drop a cigarette and accidentally start a grass fire,” Brooks said.

He also said it would be a good idea for people to turn off their A/C units when they are not home.

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