LAYTON — For the better part of the summer, Layton firefighters were on the ground helping to extinguish wildfires that burned millions of acres across the nation.
As part of a cooperative agreement with the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, the Layton City Fire Department has dispatched firefighters and equipment to assist with wildfires year-round since 2006, Layton Fire Chief Kevin Ward said.
According to the National Climatic Data Center, more than 7.72 million acres have burned since January 2012 — 3.64 million of those in August.
This year, Layton firefighters served in Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, South Dakota, Idaho, Nevada and Arizona. Ward said he anticipates they will also be needed in California when the Santa Ana winds pick up this month.
Syracuse Fire Department and Weber Fire District are also very active in the out-of-state program, according to Ward.
“It’s a great system that gives these guys some tremendous experience they wouldn’t get here locally,” he said.
“It pays off here locally … our folks gain more confidence in their wildfire skills because they are out there getting it. It makes them more valuable to our community.”
Fighting wildfires is voluntary for fire department employees; however, the training is not, Layton Fire Capt. Lance Beech said.
“It’s a requirement from our chief to be red-carded,” Beech said of the training all full-time Layton firefighters receive to become certified according to National Wildfire Coordinating Group standards.
The standards create common job expectations for firefighters coming together across state lines to accomplish a shared goal.
Ward said it takes several years to meet the qualification standards needed to fight wildfires.
“We don’t just send anybody out,” he said. “They have to have a lot of classes and a lot of field experiences.”
The department dispatches different types of engines — brush trucks or reserve structural engines — as well as ambulances, depending upon what is requested.
They receive many requests throughout the year to assist with wildfires.
“We can’t always accept them, because we don’t want to compromise what’s going on in our city. We just go when we are available,” Ward said. “We will not send any equipment that would compromise our ability to respond and maintain the level of service in our city.”
Ward said he initiated the program, partly because it made good fiscal sense for both the city and the department.
“We do receive reimbursement from federal or state for time, apparatus and staffing,” he said. “It does get a little bit of revenue back to the city that way.”
He said the department has been able to buy additional brush engines — which are also useful locally — with the funds it has received.
Ward said the funding source depends on who is responsible for the land on which the fire is burning.
“It’s a way for the department to make extra money and keep taxes down,” Beech said.
Beech recently returned home after two weeks of fighting wildfires in Wyoming.
Although he is a 16-year veteran firefighter with the department, he said this was his first experience fighting wildfires.
During the first week, he was stationed near Jackson Hole, Wyo., laying out hose and sprinklers to prevent the fire from damaging homes. The firefighters were anticipating a change in wind patterns that could potentially push the fire toward homes.
When the fire did not change direction, he and his group were redirected to a fire near Daniel, Wyo., where they worked to patrol the fire line that had already been cut in by other firefighters. He said he stretched a lot of hose, watered down areas and extinguished hot spots.
Beech said he was working 13-hour days, which could have been 16-hour days if daylight had lasted longer. He said firefighters work up to 14 days in a row before getting a day off.
“When we were in Jackson Hole, every neighbor that drove by dropped off a plate of goodies,” Beech said. “The people really took care of us well.”