Thursday, March 24, 2016


                                                      Mattie Stepanek

     It has been said often by visitors about the friendliness of the Kansas people.  There are many times that we face a major life changing event and as a whole we come together to do what is right.  It is just the way we are raised.  Maybe that is why those on the coasts and beltway just don't seem to get what it is that we are, do, and believe.
     From my view up here on the hill the sights that I saw did not bode well for our residents.  Being a retired firefighter/EMT there is one thing that cannot be taken away from me, and that is my scanner.  I like to know what is going on even though I cannot jump into my bunkers anymore and run towards what most run from.
     When the conditions in these hills set up just right there is the potential for a lot of really bad things to happen.  I know the stress and the wear and tear it takes to try and lend a hand when someone is having the worst day of their life.  Kind of fools some who think that I get my attitude and opinions from someone who is on the television or writing their opinions.
     I started fighting fire with a truck that was one year older than me.  And my favorite piece of equipment was actually even older.  As our department matured and the level of equipment improved it was still the skill and training that made the difference.  Sometimes when I see the equipment that our local boys use I flinch a bit.  But as I told the Deputy Chief of my old department once "you need to come down and see how much fire they can put out with these home-built trucks."  (I may have used a little stronger description).
     Now I am reduced to the old fire horse who can tell a good story but really am not taken very serious by the younger crowd.  But those old stories were lived and there is always a point to them.
     Now not to just single out Kansans, we live just north of the Oklahoma line.  In many ways some think that that State Line is a big brick wall.  We just notice the sign welcoming us in and notice the road is a bit rougher.  The people are still of the same stock.
      I started listening to a big fire in the Hazelton area and the county and neighboring fire departments worked all day on it.  Some stayed all night patrolling the area and called out help when it flared up again. The next day the same units worked to overhaul the area so a rekindle would not send them out again.  As they were finishing a call came in that one of the department members out west saw a big bunch of smoke south of him in Oklahoma.  He started down with a brush rig to check it out and before long the call came from Woods County OK that the fire had started by Camp Houston.  This is just north of Freedom along 64 highway.  They needed help and those guys who had been working for two days immediately started west to help.  They did not say they were tired and wore out.  The call came from a neighbor and they went.
     Now we all know that the dry weather coupled with low humidity, high wind, and a huge fire load is a recipe for disaster.  I viewed and listened to a fight moving from Woods County to Comanche County.  It was a fierce battle to stop the head fire which was too big and making stands to save buildings and homes.  It was finally moved to a last stand on US 160 highway.  The distance is around forty miles from where the fire started to 160.  Then the wind moved and so did the direction of the fire.  
     Next thing we know the fires is in multiple fronts and the response comes to the aid of our citizens from all over Kansas and Oklahoma.  Staging areas are set up and incoming units and manpower show up.  The old middle school is turned into a dormitory for visiting firefighters and the Christian Family Life Center is turned into a 24 hour feeding station.  And piles of goods, bottled water, and the most precious commodity, Chap Stick is brought in.  
     Counties from Anderson to Cowley and all others are at the EOC (Emergency Operations Center).  Two portable radio towers with communication systems are set up.  News media comes in from all around and everyone is just concerned with what they can do to help.
     My view from the hill was Kansans, Okies, and just Americans were at their best.  And why?  It is because that is what we do.  This is how we were raised.  I live in a pretty amazing place with pretty amazing people.

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