Local fire contractors express concerns about burn procedures

Two fire contractors attended the Marion County Commission meeting March 6 to express concern about controlled-burn procedures.

The two contracters had attempted to schedule a burn, but were denied with no clear reason given.

Nathan Brunner, a prescribed fire contractor, spoke on behalf of Fire 4 Hire in Tampa. He said he called county dispatch Thurs­day, March 2, to set up a burn and wasn’t sure they knew what he was talking about.

Brunner said it seemed dispatchers were mixing the old resolution with new proposed regulations and taking parts of each.

He said the sustained wind was not over 20 mph that day, but gusts were predicted to exceed 20 mph.

County Clerk Tina Spen­cer said based on that day’s information, the dispatchers were going off the old regulations.

“The 2014 regulations state that if wind speeds are projected over 20 mph within 12 hours from the time someone calls, they will not be allowed to burn,” she said.

In the proposed resolution, Spencer said, the commission is looking at fire weather indices, which takes into account more than just wind speed.

At the commission’s Feb. 21 meeting, members of the Kansas State Association of Fire Chiefs requested that the 2014 resolution language be clearer on enforcement, authorization and addi­tional water on site.

New conditions

Five stipulations were included in the new resolution:

• Using the fire weather indices for reference, burning will be allowed to occur in a controlled, supervised fashion up through and including the high warning on the rangeland fire index.

• The burning must occur within 30 minutes after calling it in.

• Calling a controlled burn in to dispatch is man­da­tory.

• Calling dispatch when the controlled burn is contained also is mandatory.

• Recommend having additional water supply available. Suggesting adequate fire containment equipment of 250 gallons of water with a 30-gallon per minute pump capable of 100 psi (a unit of pressure) output at full flow rate with a minimum one-inch hose on site.

Chiefs need authority

Fred Sheridan, Lehigh fire chief and association president, stated at the Feb. 21 meeting that fire chiefs or the county Emergency Management director would like to be given authority to decline a burn request.

Last year, he said, nine fire departments were out at the same time to fight a 1,200 acre fire outside of Florence.

“Control burns were still being called in, and guys were getting tired and resources were expended,” he said.

Commission chair Randy Dallke asked Leonard Jirak, fire contractor and owner of Fire 4 Hire, if he could anticipate the amount of time it takes for a controlled burn.

Jirak said in some cases that is possible.

In addition to Brunner’s concerns, Sheriff Rob Craft joined in the discussion.

“Whatever changes are made, they should be clear and concise,” he said.

The resolution language also should contain wording to include “at or above” when talking about wind speeds, Craft said.

While open to changes, Craft said the regulations need to be clear enough so that when somebody calls in, dispatch has a definite answer and something to back it up.

Randy Eitzen said he questioned whether the regulations shouldn’t also address welding.

“If somebody starts a fire, even if they are welding, there’s a way in the new set of regulations that somebody can file a complaint against a person who does that,” Dallke said.

Too many restrictions

Jirak noted other concerns with the proposed new resolution:

• the timing of the proposed changes because burning season is underway.

• giving the fire chiefs the ability to decline controlled burns in their area could lead to opinion-based situations where burning is not allowed.

• water requirements on site should not be too restrictive; volume is more important than pressure.

• if restrictions are too tight regarding burning, then landowners will be adversely affected.

Brunner provided a copy of burn resolutions in Harvey and Dickinson counties.

After the March 6 commission meeting, Dallke and the other commissioners agreed the new regulations contained some issues that needed to be reviewed.

Those issues included whether calling within 30 minutes of the burn time is reasonable, plus water supplies and specifically pump pressure.