Town firefighter returns from fighting Colo. fires
WESTPORT — The western United States has endured another fiery summer, and one of Westport’s firefighters was there to help.
Michael Kronick, deputy chief of the Westport Fire Department, returned Aug. 12 from a two-week deployment to Colorado, where he worked to stave off damage from the Buttermilk and Green Mountain fires in southwestern Colorado.
The recent trip was Kronick’s 11th national fire assignment since 2002, when he first joined the Connecticut Interstate Fire Crew, which the state maintains to prepare for potential in-state fires. A mutual aid agreement between Connecticut and the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the state’s fire crew is often called to fight fires on federal land out West.
Kronick has fought fires in California, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota and Quebec, Canada, as part of the crew’s mutual aid agreement, and said the duration and intensity of the fire season has gotten worse over the 16 years he has been in the program.
“The season is longer, the fires burn hotter, the manpower pool to fight the fires is continually shrinking, and with the longer season, you lose a lot of part-time employees that traditionally used to come to the business, which were college students and teachers,” Kronick said.
Connecticut has about 60 to 65 individuals active in the interstate fire crew. Each crew is made up of about 20 people and focuses primarily on fuel reduction and removal efforts to box in the fires, Kronick said. Starting in the early 1900s, the U.S. government began an aggressive campaign to extinguish every fire, despite the necessity of fire to some landscapes, especially out West. As a result, the buildup of fuel materials, coupled with changes to the climate, have led to the frequency of fires over the last two decades, Kronic said.
Kronick is given short notice for assignments. This time, he was told to leave only 48 hours in advance. The work is, at times, crushingly hard, but he said he loves it.
“It’s nice to go out as a group and work together with friends,” Kronick said of the Connecticut team that has bonded over the years.
“It’s a calling; it’s fun; it’s an adventure, a sort of man-versus-wild thing. It’s hard to explain, but I enjoy it. I like doing it, and my goal is to do it as long as I physically can,” Kronick said.
One of the most rewarding parts of the work is when the team is finally able to shower after weeks of camping and go into a restaurant to meet community members, as he and his team did on the last night in Colorado.
“They’re so thankful for your effort and what you do. A lot of people’s livelihoods depend on it,” Kronick said.
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