Clackamas Fire introduces first 20-person hand crew
High temperatures and historically dry conditions across the state are prompting fire crews and civilians alike to gear up for the upcoming wildfire season. To help combat fires, Clackamas Fire is introducing its first full-time hand crew for the 2021 and 2022 seasons.
This 20-person hand crew has been put together in conjunction with Clackamas Community College and is federally funded by the National Dislocated Workers Grant. The crew is both comprised of recruits and individual applicants.
Clackamas Fire Battalion Chief Brent Olson says having this specialized crew will significantly aid efforts against wildland fires. Olson explained that a hand crew is specifically tool-focused, as opposed to engine-focused crews that use a hose and water to put out the flames.
"It greatly enhances our capacity in the wildland environment," Olson said. "Having a resource of this capacity on district and in the area just adds a level of response that we didn't otherwise have."
Olson said that federal and state partner agencies have had hand crews for many years, but this is a first for a local agency like Clackamas Fire to have a 20-person full time hand crew.
"Just like you have different tools in your tool chest for different jobs, this crew is another more specialized tool specifically for wildland firefighting efforts," Olson said.
The crew used tools such as spades, rakes and pickaxes to put a break between a simulated fire and the fuel at an open-house demonstration at the Boring Fire Station on Wednesday morning. Conditions this year are not quite as bad so far as the historically destructive fire season of 2020, but the high temperatures of the coming weeks give Olson and his team cause for concern.
"These conditions don't exactly match up to what we experienced in September, but there are conditions that are coming up this weekend that lend itself to enhanced fire behavior on the landscape," Olson said.
Oregon lacks the wind and the low humidity of ideal wildfire conditions of September 2020. However, Olson warned, "we'll have higher temperatures, which can hurt suppression efforts not only because it adds to the fire procedure, but it is also very taxing on the firefighters themselves."
Olson emphasizes that civilians should be taking the necessary precautions to keep themselves and others safe this fire season.
"The best message we can convey to the public is to please help us help you," Olson said. "Be cognizant not to start fires, be cognizant not to drive on or park on dry grass. And of course with the holiday weekend coming up, please be careful with fireworks and things like that."
Specific precautions homeowners can take are clearing the flammable brush around their homes, and in the event of a fire, make sure your home is accessible to fire and rescue teams.
"Anything that can burn up next to houses is incredibly dangerous, so homeowners clearing brush away from their homes, just general cleanup (is advisable)," Olson said.
"If there is a fire in or around people's homes, they should leave their gates to their homes open, because we can't access people's homes behind a locked gate," he added.
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