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Oklahoma wildfires take a toll on fire departments

Battling fires in triple-digit temperatures can exact a heavy burden on a fire department.
by Andrew Knittle Modified: August 7, 2012 at 8:35 pm •  Published: August 8, 2012

“The fire protection comes from their fire suit,” Schiner said. “So we were better off trying to reduce their core temperatures inside those fire suits.

“We also have chairs that we use during rehab you can stick your forearms in that have cooled water. That is active cooling.

“The difference between passive cooling and active cooling is time. We can reduce your core temperature down faster with active cooling than we would if you just took your gear off and let yourself cool naturally with the air.”

Schiner said they are always looking for new ways to help their firefighters prepare and rehab as they battle fires and the extreme heat.

Ready before the call

Mike Norman prepares for fighting wildfires by stopping by the store each day to buy a bag or two of ice.

He'll pack three to four Gatorades and a half-dozen bottles of water in the ice chest he keeps in the back of his service truck.

By trade, Norman is a diesel mechanic for commercial construction equipment.

But by a commitment to public service, he's the fire chief of the Amber Volunteer Fire Department.

It's obvious that fires bring heat. But while firefighters are battling the heat of the blaze, they also are fighting the effects of triple-digit heat. One way to fight is to hydrate. And while that's a key for any firefighter, sometimes a volunteer firefighter's full-time job may require him to be outside all day. That's the case for Norman.

“That's something I picked up on a long time ago, is hydrating when I first get out of bed and throughout the day, just stick with it,” he said. “Prepare yourself prior to that fire.”

This year, one difference he's noticed is that the fires they've assisted with have been bigger fires with more longevity. Instead of a few hours, they've worked for 14 to 24 hours. There are departments battling fires for several days in a row.

When Norman is working at an incident command post, he'll watch firefighters who return from the fire to determine if they need rest before going back.

“I'm looking at these guys,” he said. “I'm looking at their skin. I'm looking at their pupils.”

He said most seasoned firefighters can recognize these things themselves. But sometimes individuals such as rookies will just keep going, Norman said.

“Overall, we've been able to manage it pretty well,” he said, “and it really starts with really hydrating.”

by Andrew Knittle
Investigative Reporter
Andrew Knittle has covered state water issues, tribal concerns and major criminal proceedings during his career as an Oklahoma journalist. He has won reporting awards from the state's Associated Press bureau and prides himself on finding a real...
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