Kitsap firefighters battle blazes across the West

Kitsap firefighters battle blazes across the West

  • By Robert Monteith Kitsap News Group
  • Wednesday, August 15, 2018 4:06pm
  • News

As winds picked up Monday, wildfire smoke made its way into Kitsap County’s otherwise blue skies. As the smoke settled in, many of us headed indoors. But a few of the county’s residents are still out there, as close to the source of the smoke as possible.

Several firefighters from Kitsap County have been deployed to various fires throughout the West since June, including the Cougar Creek Fire in the Wenatchee National Forest and the Mendocino Complex in California.

Michele Laboda with North Kitsap Fire & Rescue said that sending locals to large wildland fires takes a lot of effort. Coordinators look at the resources available in each district, as well as local conditions that may increase the potential need for firefighters locally.

After that, a certain amount of personnel and equipment is sent to where they’re needed most.

“They’ve all gone through special training in order to be deployed in this way,” Laboda said.

North Kitsap’s battalion chief, Ken LeMay, currently serves as the fire resource coordinator for a zone that includes Kitsap County. He said 10 members of the local fire districts are currently deployed elsewhere.

Both North and South Kitsap fire districts have an engine and crew working the Mendocino Complex, and the Poulsbo Fire Department just sent an EMT to the Kettle River Fire near Curlew, northwest of Spokane. But Kitsap crews have been deployed around the West since June.

Districts are typically reimbursed for the equipment and personnel, as well as for the backfill and overtime pay required to make up for the absences. During busy fire seasons, however, districts may not have staff to spare.

Deputy Chief Guy Dalrymple with the South Kitsap district said they recently had to turn down a request for a medical team because they just don’t have anymore staff that can be deployed.

Deployments can last two weeks or longer, and grueling shifts can sometimes mean 12 hours a day fighting fires, leaving only 12 hours to sleep, eat, maintain the truck and patch up equipment.

For the firefighters, however, the long hours are worth it.

“Certainly it’s hard for them to be separated from their families for a long period of time when they’re on longer deployments,” Laboda said,” but they all believe in what they’re doing and know that the additional resources they provide are desperately needed.”

LeMay said the impact firefighters have on an area lasts long after the fires go out.

“Last year, we had people on the Napa fires,” he said. “The outpouring of thank yous over months and months was moving. These guys don’t do it for anything else but to help others.”

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