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McConnell AFB firefighters help extinguish Kansas wildfires

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. --

Eighteen firefighters from McConnell’s fire department responded to an off-base wildfire in Reno County, Kansas, March 7 to 8.

The responding groups, which consisted of both military and civilians, were part of more than 2,000 firefighters from 216 organizations that aided in the emergency, said Doug Hanen, Hutchinson Fire Department interim fire chief.

The call for assistance was received the night of March 6, and the first group of nine firefighters responded March 7, after obtaining approval from base leadership. The Airmen worked a 12-hour shift before rotating out with nine new Airmen.

“We were in extreme fire conditions,” said Hanen. “We had been battling large grass fires since Friday, and then on Monday the Highlands fire escaped the fire line and ran for seven miles, destroying nine homes and many outbuildings. All local resources were exhausted and the weather conditions were not letting up.”

McConnell firefighters traveled 59 miles to the scene of the fire and teamed up with departments that were already there to battle the fire.

“We were given our own division, so we had other fire departments working below us,” said Richard Barnett, 22nd Civil Engineer Squadron assistant chief of operations. “We were directly in charge of over 700 acres with 108 structures.

“The crews that we relieved from the night before‒ a totally different department and group of firefighters‒ had actually done a lot to save those structures, and we just had to make sure that [the fires] didn’t flare up again. Those guys did a great job.”

McConnell’s fire department has a direct mutual-aid agreement with Sedgwick County, but large-scale fires like this happen rarely. Working this fire enabled the firefighters to experience new situations and learn how other departments operate, said Barnett

The various organizations that responded were not only able to help prevent the loss of assets, but also bring comfort to the area’s residents.

“It’s very rewarding,” said Barnett. “Our base of operation was out of a small fire station, and the people who were still in the area were bringing us food all day long. They were just very happy that we were up there helping.”