5 Questions With: Scott Kitchner, Fire Chief, Sweetwater County Fire District #1

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Scott Kitchner (right) with his son Brett Kitchner (left)

ROCK SPRINGS, WYOMING (June 28, 2020) — In today’s edition of 5 Questions With…, Wyo4News talks with Scott Kitchner, Fire Chief for Sweetwater County Fire District #1. Kitchner has been at Fire District #1 for 28 years.

Kitchner moved with his family to Rock Springs in 1981 when he was eight years old. Kitchner started as a volunteer firefighter for Fire District #1 in 1992 and did so for five years before being hired on as a full-time firefighter. In 2015, he was hired as the Fire Chief for Fire District #1. He also worked part-time for the local ambulance services from 1994 to 2011.

He also serves on numerous committees and boards in Sweetwater County.

Kitchner has one son, Brett, 21, who graduated from Cheyenne South High School in 2017. Kitchner also enjoys spending time outdoors fishing, hiking, and spending time at his family cabin.

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Wyo4News 5 Questions

1. What work have you been doing to prepare for the summer and fire season?

Sweetwater County Fire District #1 is always at the ready for the summer wildland fire season and it does not take much for us to gear up and get prepared for the start of the season. Some of the more important things that we do to prepare are equipment checks. We make sure all our trucks, pumps, equipment, and personal protective gear is up and running and in good condition. We make sure all of our firefighters have completed the requirements to be red card certified to fight wildland fires. The training includes S-130 Firefighter Training (with required field exercises), S-190 Introduction to Wildland Fire Behavior, L-180 Human Factors on the Fireline, ICS-100 Introduction to the ICS, and IS-700 An Introduction to the NIMS(National Incident Management system). This training can take as long as 32-40 hours to complete all the requirements. This training is only required for our new firefighters. All of our new personnel complete this training during our annual fire academy.

Our firefighters are also mandated by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group to do annual refresher training in wildland fire safety, each one of our firefighters will take a safety refresher course that averages 4-6 hours in length. The safety training must include the following core components, entrapment voidance, fire shelter use, current wildfire issues, and other hazards and safety issues.

Once all the classroom requirements and refresher training are complete, we then must conduct an annual wildland firefighter work capacity test. All frontline wildland firefighters are required to be rated at the arduous work category, this rating is a measure of the cardiac output, lung capacity, and the overall physical conditioning of the firefighter. The test consists of a three-mile hike with a 45-pound pack over level terrain and must be completed in 45 minutes or less. Our firefighters conduct blood screenings and a cardiac stress test at the Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County Medical Clinic with Mark Sanders and his staff. As you can see our firefighters put a lot of work and effort into getting ready for the fire season.

We have placed in service a brand-new Type 5 Wildland Fire Engine this spring. The new fire engine was purchased with impact funding from the Gateway West Project. This new fire engine has increased our fire suppression capacity greatly and it has already been used on several fires already this year.

 

2. There was a train derailment on June 13 and Fire District #1 responded. What can you say about the response and how it was handled?

The train derailment that took place on June 13 was an extremely hazardous situation and could have been so much worse if not for the great efforts of all the multiple agencies that responded and assisted in the mitigation of the incident. Some of the emergency agencies that responded and played vital roles in the emergency were the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office, Wyoming Highway Patrol, Sweetwater Medics, Southwest Wyoming Regional Airport, Bureau of Land Management fire, Wyoming Homeland Security Region #4 Regional Response team staffed by Firefighters from the Rock Springs Fire Department, Sweetwater County Fire Department, Sweetwater County Joint Dispatch Center and Fire District #1. We were also assisted by the Wyoming Department of Transportation, Sweetwater County Road and Bridge, and the City of Rock Springs Water Department. All these agencies came together with truly little to no warning and did not hesitate a second to spring into action and help in any way possible. I think we are extremely lucky to have people like this within our community that always put the safety of the community and others as the highest priority.

All these agencies represent Sweetwater County, the City of Rock Springs, the State of Wyoming, and the Federal Government. It truly was a multi-jurisdictional response to an emergency in our community. I am proud to say that all these agencies came together and made an awfully bad situation much easier to handle. As with any large scale emergency, you learn from them and you make changes to better prepare yourself for the next one. I am proud to say that everyone worked great together and the incident went fairly smooth all things considered. When everyone goes home safely at the end of the day you can consider that a huge success.

 

3. How do you feel about the unity you have being the Fire Chief for Fire District #1?

As Fire Chief for Fire District #1, you must maintain a good working relationship with all the local emergency agencies and other support agencies within our community. I think the leadership within all of these agencies have a very good relationship with each other. We all serve on many different boards and committees together and have all worked together on numerous projects and emergency scenes, so this helps us all strengthen those relations with each other. We all know each other on a professional level and personal level. We all talk on a regular basis to discuss current issues that are going on within our areas and I think that open line of communications with each other has helped tear down some of the walls that were built up over the years from previous leaders and department heads.

Cooperation is key to getting a job done and we all cooperate very well together, not only from the leaders of these organizations but all the way down to the boots on the ground. We all know that we can rely on each other when and if needed for assistance. We know that we are stronger together than apart and we have the best interests of the communities we serve at the forefront of everything we do. We are lucky to have some exceptionally good leaders in charge of these agencies and we can all rest easy at night knowing we have highly motivated, trained, and dedicated responders ready to serve at a moment’s notice.

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4. What are some things that Fire District #1 does that most people may not be aware of?

That is an interesting question, we do just about everything that most fire departments do, so it is kind of hard to think about what we do that people might not know. We get a lot of requests for CPR classes and Child safety seat checks, so maybe that’s a couple of things that the public is not sure that we do. We do public CPR classes once a month, but with the coronavirus still impacting our area, we have temporarily stopped teaching CPR classes, and we hope to resume them again soon. We also have several of our personnel that are child safety seat technicians. We can conduct child safety seat checks and we can install car seats. The public just needs to call and make an appointment or stop by one of our stations and we can take care of their needs. We also do smoke and CO detector checks, fire safety presentations, fire extinguisher training, fire station tours, and much more.

One of the things we enjoy doing is working with the Fire Law Leadership Academy from the Rock Springs High School. We have students that are interested in pursuing a possible career in the Fire Service come and do job shadowing with our agency. It is a great way to expose the kids to what the job of a firefighter is all about.

We are always looking for new ways to help get safety messages out to the public and expand our interaction with those we serve.

 

5. What advice can you give residents in Sweetwater County with the warmer temperatures coming and more people spending time outside?

The first bit of advice would have to be for them to be fire safe and fire aware. Practice fire safety when out enjoying the great outdoors. Make sure all your fires are out and cold. Check with local agencies about fire restrictions before you go out camping. Never leave a fire unattended and make sure you have a fire extinguisher or water hose close by in case the fire escapes the fire pit.

With the 4th of July approaching, the public needs to be aware of the hazards of fireworks and the damage they can do if not used properly. We respond to many fireworks-related fires not only on the 4th of July but all summer long. Follow a lot of the same practices for fireworks as you would for campfires, have a water hose or fire extinguisher close by, and make sure you are in an area that allows fireworks. Fireworks are illegal within the city limits of Rock Springs and Green River, as well as on all public lands. Fireworks are also illegal in the unincorporated areas of Sweetwater County, except on private property and then only with permission from the landowner. If you cause a fire by violating these laws, you can be charged for the cost of suppression of the fire and that can cost thousands of dollars or more.

We always have the same safety messages specific to summertime activities. If you’re on the water wear a safety vest. If you’re riding a motorcycle of 4-wheeler always wear a helmet. Don’t drink and drive and always wear your seatbelt.

I’d be remised if I didn’t bring up COVID-19 safety. We have been dealing with the coronavirus in our County since March of this year and In the most recent days, we have had a big increase in the number of cases. We have a lot of nurses and others at Public Health working long hours to try and keep us safe and informed about the current situation in our communities. We need to be aware that the hazard still exists and to not let our guard down. We need to do our best to follow the guidelines set out to stop the spread. Remember what you do or do not do today could change the life of someone tomorrow.

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