Burned Out: More Vignettes From Unpaid Oklahoma Firefighters

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Allen Schneider, chief of the Little Axe Fire Department, on the radio during a "mutual aid" call near Noble, Okla. Firefighters from Little Axe teamed up with volunteer firefighters from Cedar Country and Slaughterville to extinguish hotspots after a devastating firestorm in early August.

It’s been a busy summer for Oklahoma firefighters.

The drought has extended the fire season and helped fuel a series of summer firestorms that have torched 110,000 acres and destroyed 603 homes since late July. In Cleveland County alone, 141 homes were lost to fires that consumed more than 8,900 acres, state emergency management officials say.

Crews from surrounding towns and counties met on “mutual aid” calls and battled blazes in 110-degree heat. Professional firefighters worked side-by-side with volunteers, who left their day jobs and professional lives when the fires erupted.

“It’s hard on a person who has to punch a time-clock to do this,” says Jimmy Blair, assistant chief of the all-volunteer Slaughterville Fire Department.”


Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Dewayne Tolson, 48

Firefighter, hospital worker

“It’s our community … it was sad just to see all those houses burn.”

 


Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Trevor Morgan, 19

Firefighter, city parks employee

“I’ve got a 1-year-old son, it’s kind of hard being away from him. But it’s a job.”

 


Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Jeremy Baird, 23

Firefighter, unemployed

“It’s a great feeling, overall, being able to help the community out.”

 


Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Ross Durham, 23

Firefighter, industrial welder

“You get to do two things you love: You get to play with water, you get to play with fire.”

 

 


Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Willie Glenn, 24

Firefighter, disaster restoration worker

“You get to help people and you’re always learning new things.”

 


This is part two of a two-part multimedia series on volunteer firefighters. Part one is here.


StateImpact Oklahoma is a partnership among Oklahoma’s public radio stations and relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online.

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