Politics & Government

Kansas OKs bill to share firefighting resources

Firefighters from across Kansas and Oklahoma battle a major wildfire near Protection. (March 7, 2017)
Firefighters from across Kansas and Oklahoma battle a major wildfire near Protection. (March 7, 2017) The Wichita Eagle

For two years, proposals that would have allowed Kansas to share its firefighting resources with Oklahoma sat in the Legislature, as the two biggest fires to ever hit Kansas burned across state lines.

But on Wednesday, House Bill 2140 passed the Senate 40-0, after passing the House 124-1.

If it is signed by Gov. Sam Brownback, Kansas would have the ability to sign a regional agreement with several nearby states that would give it access to firefighting resources across the country.

Rodney Redinger, who led the firefighting efforts at Anderson Creek last year for the Kansas Forest Service, testified to the importance of the bill.

“The absence of a compact meant that coordination of resources from outside the state of Kansas was challenging and nearly impossible,” Redinger testified.

This meant Kansas had to turn down Oklahoma last year when it offered to let Kansas use one of its planes, Redinger said. And it put firefigters at risk.

“(It) prevented on-site firefighters to get adequate rest,” he testified. “Historically, this is when firefighters make mistakes and/or are exposed to unnecessary risk leading to injuries and/or fatalities.”

Despite testimony from Redinger and others, lawmakers didn’t pass the bill before March, Kansas’ biggest fire season.

“Should the time come again when we have either exhausted or will soon exhaust the state’s firefighting resources,” Redinger testified, “partner firefighting assistance will be readily available.”

Drone footage shows burned fields and a burned out barn and garage near Ashland, Kansas. After the fires swept through, winds started stripping away the topsoil, creating dust storms. (Courtesy video)

Oliver Morrison: 316-268-6499, @ORMorrison

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