Washington County Uses Unique Strategy To Fight Fires

Tuesday, May 6th 2014, 6:21 pm
By: Craig Day

Many firefighters fear, without significant rain, our fire season could last well through the summer. One county in our area has a unique strategy to get more firefighters and resources to fires quickly.

Typically fire departments in Oklahoma have a certain geographic jurisdiction that they cover, then, they help each other with mutual aid. However, one department in Washington County operates a little differently.

Usually this time of year in Oklahoma, emergency management leaders like Kary Cox in Washington County are busy watching for severe weather, but, the fires in Guthrie and Terlton show this is a unique year with a double threat.

5/5/2014 Related Story: Evacuations Ordered For Terlton Area, Wildfires Continue To Burn

"We're going to have to take into account the fires as well," Cox said. "And even if we get that severe weather, those thunderstorms come up, those lightning strikes that go with those, that adds another degree, another level of threat this year especially."

Washington County has a unique strategy to fight fires. In addition to eight fire departments in the county, which are connected to towns or have their own districts, there is the Washington County Fire Department.

"Their jurisdiction covers the entire county, so it overlaps all of the other fire districts," Cox said.

Essentially the 16 volunteers in the Washington County department are rovers. They're based out of the old Walmart building in Bartlesville.

With quick highway access, they're able to respond to any part of the county when needed.

"It's unique that it basically gives us dual coverage over the entire county," said Cox.

Typically firefighters in other areas asses a situation and then call the Washington County department for help. On high fire danger days, their response is automatic.

Cox said, "We feel like, here in Washington County, that gives us an advantage of getting more resources on the scene of a fire a lot quicker."

The county allocates $10,000 each year for the department. The rest comes from grants, and fundraising, just like other volunteer departments.

The only difference is, since they're countywide, they aren't able to get money from fire subscription fees.

Cox says it's been a strategy that's paid off. She says with all of the wildfires in our state, there is a tremendous need for more volunteer firefighters.