Fighting Fires Across The West

Just as firefighters came from far away to save Payson, Payson firefighter is always on call to fight fires elsewhere

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When Payson Fire Department Captain Robb Beery hears the phone ring, he knows he could be on the way to fight a wildfire states away within hours.

Beery is the only Payson firefighter who is part of the nationwide emergency management program. There are three teams in the state.

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Payson Fire Captain Robb Beery just returned from Idaho where his team fought a wildfire.

"Whenever we are available, whenever something comes up, they call the entire team out," he said. The team, part of the Arizona Center West Zone fire team, consists of 40 members.

As an example, he mentioned the team heading down to Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix to handle the 2,100 people who were transported to Arizona from New Orleans last year in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

He said the people arriving from New Orleans had lost everything and had nothing. So, services had to be developed to help them cope with their losses to a small degree.

Beery, who has been a firefighter for the last 18 years, said it is a team effort as people from other states help Arizona in their fire seasons and they return the favor.

Beery just returned from Idaho three weeks ago where his team fought a wildfire. The Idaho fire killed four firefighters who were fighting the fire from a helicopter.

Payson Fire Department Chief Marty deMasi signs off every year to allow Beery to continue to leave Payson to fight fires and other emergencies across the nation.

He said he is always packed and ready to leave on a moment's notice.

"They give us two hours notice," he said. "Within two hours, I have to be on the road or en route to the airport.

"It changes. You never know when you will get a call and where you will be gone for a couple of weeks."

When the team arrives in a location to fight a wildfire, it sets up a "small city" for the 200 to 1,000 firefighters, as they will be away from civilization for more than a week.

"You name it, we have it," he said of the makeshift town. "We can set up anywhere."

Over the years, Beery has faced some enormous blazes at home and across the West. He fought the Rodeo-Chediski fire, the Biscuit fire in Oregon, the Willow fire and the February fire.

He said the team is especially busy from March to the end of September, but team members are on call year-round.

Last year, his team was called out 11 times, and so far this year, the team has been dispatched to a location five times.

The average time he is away from Payson while tending to an emergency in another region is two weeks.

Being away from home for long periods of time, and not knowing when he will be away are the major drawbacks.

"Sleeping in a tent and showering where you can," he said, "that is part of the fun. It is something different."

Beery, who has been on the team for the past eight years, said the team is often dispatched to smaller towns, but the firefighters do not see any type of pavement or civilization for weeks at a time.

"It's a big-time learning experience," he said.

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