Busy Wildfire Season Taking Toll On Oklahoma Firefighters, Volunteers
WASHINGTON COUNTY, Oklahoma - This is a tough season for firefighters across Green Country, especially volunteers, which make up about 90 percent of firefighters in the state.
Crews at the Owens and Company fire department in Vera are having to take vacation days from their regular jobs because we’ve had so many wildfires.
Tuesday was another day of Oklahoma winds, which lead to another fire call for Todd Owens and Company. Luckily, this run was a false alarm.
But guys like Jonathan Chasteen, a ten-year veteran of the fire department, are on standby all day because wind gusts are high.
"Not a lot of help in the daytime, so try to stick around as much as possible," he said.
Not a lot of help because all 14 firefighters on staff are volunteers and have other full-time jobs.
Chief Todd Owens said his crew is running ragged.
"It's kinda starting to take the toll on the guys, and the equipment," he said.
He said, this season, every single volunteer has taken time off from their day jobs to fight fires – six in the last two weeks.
And what's more, they believe someone set four of them on purpose. The department said it's dealing with a serial arsonist.
Owens said, "They'll set two fires at a time, so now you're battling two separate fires. You're having to split your resources up."
It means extra work for a department already stretched thin.
"We're not getting anything for this,” Chasteen said. “A lot of people have families and lives to tend to. We only have a select few of guys that are willing to set aside and be willing to protect our community."
Owens said the arsonist has been setting fires on purpose for three years.