Summit County lends firefighters to help out Arizona neighbors as wildfire threats increase

Summit Fire & EMS sent its wildland team of Engine Boss Captain Todd Hebebrand and fiefighters Bob Corcoran and Mark Piller to Camp Verde, Arizona, to help a region with high wildfire potential
Summit Fire & EMS/Courtesy photo

Camaraderie is common among firefighters. On a personal level, firefighters bunk, eat and work together. And at the departmental level, teams will often cross state lines to lend a hand during peak wildfire seasons. Summit Fire & EMS recently sent one of its Type 3 wildland firefighter crews to Camp Verde, Arizona, to assist firefighters while the southwestern U.S. has an increased fire danger.

The crew, captained by Todd Hebebrand and including firefighters Bob Corcoran and Mark Piller, traveled to Camp Verde on “severity.” The region is on high alert for potential fire starts and requested extra hands on deck. In other words, they’re helping out as needed, both with day-to-day firefighting operations and combatting active wildfires. They might patrol areas of concern, do project work for the local district or be strategically placed to watch for wildfires, Hannah Ohlson of Summit Fire & EMS said. Summit Fire & EMS Spokesperson Steve Lipsher said already they had helped on a small 20-acre wildfire.

There are no major active wildfires in Camp Verde, but the potential for one exists, Lipsher said. Just a few miles away, the Crook Fire was contained Saturday, June 25, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Afterward, local fire districts made a request for resources and in turn national coordinators put out a call looking for available units.

“From our vantage point as firefighters, we say we we need 10 Type 6 engines and 10 Type 3 engines. We just ask for it. The legwork of finding all of those resources is done at the Grand Junction dispatch center,” Ohlson said.

Requests for aid move up the chain of command, moving from local to regional to federal dispatch centers as dispatch teams attempt to coordinate aid, Lipsher said. The dispatch center for the Rocky Mountain region is located in Grand Junction.

First responders with Summit Fire & EMS put themselves on an availability list, Captain Kyle Iseminger said. Federal dispatchers in Grand Junction give Summit Fire & EMS a call saying how many and what kinds of units they need, and Summit Fire & EMS responds with how many they can offer. Staffing levels at home are always kept sufficient, Iseminger said.

“There is something to be said that a lot of experience we gain is just from being immersed in that world for 14 days straight,” Iseminger said. “And incident after incident, you pick up a lot of a lot of things that you may or may not pick up otherwise.”

Different regions have unique fuel types, forests and resources for fighting fires, Iseminger said. Arizon’s fire ecosystem is different from that of Colorado’s High Country. Firefighters can then bring that experience back to their peers, Iseminger said.

Another reason for sending firefighters, Ohlson added, “is a desire to be of service.” Firefighters want to do their job, and they want to help.

While grudges and past favors don’t factor into where national dispatchers assign crews, Lipsher said it’s still good to build relationships with other fire districts. The more familiar fire districts are with one another, the more efficient they can work when disaster strikes.

Summit Fire & EMS often works with Vail Fire & Emergency Services, and Ohlson used their relationship as an example, saying, “When Vail come around to our fires, we’re like, ‘Hey, Chief, Novak. We’re so glad you’re here. I know your skill set. I’m going to plug you in this way because I’ve seen you do that before and I trust you.’”

Good relationships make joint responses more effective, and on larger efforts, those relationships may need to stretch across state lines.

“Last year with the Ptarmigan Fire, we had resources from all across the West, and that was fairly small fire,” Lipsher said.

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