Our Protectors

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We cannot help but feel inspired and heartened when you gather in one place so many of the people willing to run great risks to protect Rim Country from the catastrophe that stalks us all.

That’s just what happened last week when representatives from all the fire departments and law enforcement agencies in Rim Country met with Forest Service and Gila County officials to lay their desperately important plans for a fire season starting weeks earlier than normal.

The group included representatives of Payson Police and Payson, Pine Strawberry, Christopher-Kohl’s, Houston Mesa, Hellsgate, Gisela, Tonto Basin and Whispering Pines fire departments. In addition, the Gila County Sheriff’s Office, Tonto Rim Search and Rescue, the Arizona Department of Transportation, Gila County Public Works, the county’s disaster preparedness people, Gila County Supervisor Tommie Martin, the state Division of Forestry, Arizona Department of Public Safety and many others spent all morning hashing out a strategy to cope with disaster.

These agencies and these dedicated leaders have made great sacrifices, as evidenced by the moment of silence for Lt. Bobby Mollere — a devoted Hellsgate volunteer firefighter who collapsed and died during a certification endurance test so he could spend another season fighting wildland fires.

Gila County has demonstrated creativity and focus in providing a network of water stations for fire trucks and helicopters, scattered fire departments have worked hard to coordinate their efforts and the Payson Ranger District has done a superb job of grabbing up year-end Forest Service money to create a precious, thinned buffer zone around most of our Rim Country communities.

This group for years has worked with admirable discipline, cooperation, humor and dedication. We could not ask for a more selfless, determined and careful group of protectors.

Still ... still ... We could not help but wonder whether we have made this vital task more difficult than we have to, with all our fragmented and jealously defended turf.

The discussion only underscored the complexity of the task facing these many small fire departments confronting this terrible single threat.

So, once again we extend our deep gratitude to these first responders — each as willing as Bobby Mollere to risk their lives to protect us all.

But we hope also that the scattered fire boards will carefully consider the proposal made by many of those fire chiefs to merge operations or enter into a close operating agreement to reduce overhead and carefully coordinate their activities.

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