Summit County creates new wildland fire unit
The volunteer-run group will provide support during longer-duration blazes
A new public safety resource to help fight wildfires in Summit County is nearly complete and expected to start operations later this season.
The Summit County Wildland Fire Unit is a county-founded, volunteer-run resource created to assist with an extended wildfire. County management, emergency management staffers and Summit County Fire Warden Bryce Boyer began meeting in May to collaborate on the project.
On Wednesday, Boyer and Kathryn McMullin, the county’s emergency manager, presented details to the Summit County Council about the unit’s role.
McMullin said seven people from around Summit County have finished onboarding and Red Card firefighting certification and are ready to serve. The group has past wildland fire experience, but Boyer said there’s also been interest from those who don’t have any training. Several other individuals are expected to earn their certifications in the fall and then join the unit for deployment in 2023.
“I think it’s looking at a really amazing effort within the last three months that was able to be put together. We’ve had other counties that have been trying this for years that have reached out to us to commend Summit County and see what we’re doing as a best practice,” McMullin said.
The volunteer unit will be treated as a deployable resource through the county’s Emergency Management Department to provide additional aid or support when requested. Fire departments like the Park City Fire District and North Summit Fire District are still responsible for providing the initial response, but the volunteer unit was started to offset possible scenarios such as when responding firefighters are called away for other duties during longer-duration burns. Volunteers will receive notifications through Summit County Dispatch and the iSpy alert system. They are compensated after two hours of work.
“The fire districts have jurisdiction … that doesn’t mean extended attack, so multiple hours or beyond,” Boyer said. “A wildland has the potential to be a much longer duration. Fire departments will still be the initial attack, but if they need additional resources because other districts are tied up or it’s a multi-day fire like a Tollgate Fire or a Rockport Fire, we bring these volunteers in.”
The wildland fire unit will have access to a state-supplied brush truck as well as a county-purchased side-by-side with a tank, a 1,200-gallon tactical water tender, a 5,000-gallon semi tender and a large four-cylinder pump that can be used for resupplying water. Boyer said the unit can also order county resources like bulldozers or excavators, which usually arrive within two hours from the time a request is made. County Councilor Roger Armstrong said having equipment to move dirt and create firebreaks has been critical in preventing damage from spreading during past wildfires.
The group is working with an Uintah County-based fire district to share resources, too. Equipment can also be ordered through an interagency fire center program, but it can take around three days to arrive.
The Emergency Management Department will also create a budget to help pay for future expenses like equipment upgrades.
“Another advantage of having a team this size, and to build it to this, is we may have the potential to … deploy to other fires in the state and beyond as long as we can maintain crews that still support Summit County,” McMullin said. “That can get to the point where the team is self-funded and they’re upgrading their own equipment and they’re able to grow and expand themselves based on those deployments.”
Boyer anticipates between 25 and 30 people could join the roster by next summer, which allows for more rotation in the schedule. He said he’s also been approached by businesses in the area interested in working with the volunteer unit to gain training experience that they can’t otherwise get as private entities.
Summit County Clerk Evelyn Furse said ballots are expected to be mailed on Oct. 18 and should arrive later that week.
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