Oklahoma Fire Departments Joining Forces For High Fire Risk

Thursday, January 16th 2014, 8:00 pm
By: Craig Day

With strong winds and low humidity, a fire watch is in effect for much of the state. Some Oklahoma departments are joining forces to protect lives and property.

With little chance of rain in the forecast anytime soon, we could be dealing with the risk of fires every day for the rest of the month.

When the wind blows like it's blowing has been, Carolyn Smythe with the Freedom Hill fire department in Creek County gets nervous.


"My blood pressure is elevated, I'm very anxious about the day," Smythe said.

She's anxious because she knows how quickly a fire can spread, like the one a year and a half ago that destroyed hundreds of homes in Creek County.

Aid came from about 200 Oklahoma fire departments.

"When other agencies even from outside the county came in to fill that need, it was a tremendous relief. Fresh firemen, we needed them badly," said Smythe.

Most fire departments work with mutual aid agreements with other departments. Typically crews respond to a fire in their jurisdiction, and then call in help from other nearby departments if needed.

Crews in Oklahoma County have turned to what's called automatic aid. When the threat is really bad, they implement what are called wild land automatic response, or WAR, days.

Chief Loren Bumgarner with the Choctaw Fire Department said, "It gives the individual jurisdiction that has a fire, two more cities coming to them automatically, immediately."

On WAR days, fire calls are automatically dispatched to their partners, and those departments immediately send manpower and equipment. It's a way for fire departments to boost firefighting capabilities without draining all of a town's resources.

David Barnes, with the Oklahoma County Emergency Management said, "We are able to pull some resources from each of those departments, as opposed to any of those departments completely emptying their fire stations."

For Smythe, it's an interesting strategy

"If you can knock it out in an hour, versus five hours or eight hours or have the fear or anxiety of losing structures, homes, people's personal belongings, I think that's wonderful," said Smythe.

Oklahoma County has been using the WAR days for about three years.

They're only called for when conditions are just right, with the combination of high winds, low humidity, high fuel and extreme danger