Visiting Fire Crews Help Patrol Neighborhoods

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Municipal firefighters from around the state are helping keep Rim country communities safe during the ongoing battle with the Willow Fire.

Two strike teams, with 39 firefighters, plus team leaders, from 10 different Arizona communities are patrolling Rim country neighborhoods to identify hazards that need to be a priority should the Willow Fire get the upper hand on the crews in the field.

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The Tempe Fire Department has sent four of its members to the Rim country to serve on strike teams to patrol area communities and identify high-risk areas where initial strikes will need to be made if the Willow Fire breaks through defenses being built by Forest Service crews. There are almost 40 people from Arizona's municipal fire departments doing the community patrol work.

"We do structure triage," said Bob Matthews, who is with the Tempe Fire Department crew that is part of the strike team.

In addition to identifying structures that are hazards, the teams also map where residential and business propane tanks are located and make a plan of attack in the event of the fire coming into the communities.

The teams include engine companies from Tempe, Mesa, Avra Valley, Chino Valley and Flagstaff working in Payson. Companies from Three Points, Golder Ranch, Mayer, Green Valley and the Northwest Fire District are working in the Pine area.

The Payson crew did work in the Deer Valley area over the weekend, putting down 2,000 feet of line to protect the structures at a ranch on the southwest side of Highway 87.

"We were notified Monday (June 28) night and arrived at 4 a.m. Tuesday," Matthews said. The strike team members are camping in the woods, he said.

With the structure and neighborhood checks completed and the strike plan ready, the team members are helping local fire departments, filling in for personnel when they are called out. For instance, the team helped with the house fire that occurred over the weekend in the Bear Flat subdivision near Kohl's Ranch, Matthews said.

The strike team concept has been in place for some time, he said. With forest fires, usually the battle is waged by the wildland firefighters, but when communities are jeopardized, the teams are called out.

"We protect the urban interface," Matthews said, meaning those areas where the forest and communities are joint entities.

He said the team's equipment is limited to running on developed roads, not forest roads, though the crew does have both structural and wildland firefighting skills, plus many of the members are trained paramedics.

"You have a Type 1 (Southwest Management) Team that is the best of the best doing all in its power to protect these communities," Matthews said. "They have done an exceptional job."

Pick up a copy of the Tuesday, July 6 Payson Roundup for a poster thanking firefighters. The Roundup and the chamber are encouraging residents to display these posters and wear red ribbons in gratitude for the fire crews' efforts in saving and protecting our community.

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