Green Country Firefighter Hospitalized After Battling Wildfire

Tuesday, April 12th 2011, 4:02 pm
By: News On 6

Craig Day, News On 6

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Our wildfires are taxing manpower and resources and are taking a toll on many volunteer firefighters.

One firefighter had to be treated for smoke inhalation after this weekend's fires in Cleveland in Pawnee County and a firefighter in Vera is just out of the hospital and back on the job.

4/11/2011 Related Story: Firefighters Eye Hot Spots After Wildfire Destroys Homes In Cleveland, Oklahoma

For volunteer firefighters, like the ones at Owens and Company in Vera, this year's wildfire season has been grueling: 500 hours fighting just grass fires; 75 percent of their annual budget is gone.

It's been tough on volunteers.

"Physically, mentally, it's hard on their families," Chief Todd Owens, Owens & Company Fire District, said.

It's hard on equipment too. It's also taken a toll on Chief Todd Owens' health.

"My biggest problem is staying in the hospital, sitting in the hospital knowing what my guys are going through," he said.

While fighting a fire, Owens breathed in too much smoke. The smoke inhalation led to pneumonia, which meant six days in the hospital.

"It basically feels like someone has taken a knife and stabbed you in the lung or in your rib cage, just a real sharp stabbing pain," he said.

With such a terrible wildfire season in Oklahoma, one which has prompted burn bans in dozens of counties, firefighters statewide are facing the same dangers.

[See which Oklahoma counties are under a burn ban in the map above]

Both the immediate ones and the long term chronic health problems that can develop later.

"You've got flames as tall as the trucks," Chief Owens said. "These grass fires are just as toxic as a structure fire."

Owens and many other firefighters hope people heed the burn bans, or at least think of the dangers firefighters face, and the worries their families experience.

Although he only has about 65 percent of his strength back, Owens is already back on limited duty.

"Its part of the job," he said.

He says extreme caution would be good, a soaking rain would be better, but what would be best is more time for conditions to improve, along with his health.

"You know why you do this," he said. "You do this because you love fighting fire and you love helping your community."

According to Oklahoma Forestry Service, 47 of Oklahoma's 77 counties are under a burn ban right now because of the persistently dry conditions.

Anyone violating the bans could face fines of up to $500, plus be financially responsible for any damage a fire causes.