Westport deputy fire chief returns from fighting blazes in Minn., Mont.

In the dog days of summer, when many people were likely sneaking off to spend a few days at the beach, Michael Kronick traveled across the country to keep fires from destroying forests and homes in Minnesota and Montana.

From July 28 to Aug. 14, Kronick — deputy chief with the Westport Fire Department — was on a national wildfire assignment with the Connecticut Interstate Fire Crew, an interagency organization under the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Crew members are deployed nationwide to help protect lives, personal property, and natural resources threatened by wildfire.

“This is not only a job, but also a hobby and passion of mine,” Kronick, 49, said of firefighting. “Protecting our lands is important.”

Kronick, a 23-year-veteran has been with the interstate fire crew for 20 seasons and has gone on roughly 13 assignments. The latest assignment began with the deployment to Minnesota, where he and the rest of his crew were assigned to the Delta Fire, a 67-acre fire burning on the Superior National Forest outside Ely, Minn.

“Minnesota was in the midst of a significant drought,” Kronick said.

While there, he said, the crew’s job was mainly to support the local fire crew and “make sure none of the small fires (burning in the area) became big fires.”

In the second week of his deployment, Kronick’s crew was assigned to fight the Trout Creek Fire outside Absarokee, Mont. There, a 200-acre fire was burning in grass rangeland, threatening several subdivisions along the Stillwater River.

“Our job was to protect the homes and try to stop the fire,” Kronick said.

Though protecting the forest and grasslands is important, he said, there’s a special responsibility involved in guarding people’s homes and belongings against destruction by fire. “I feel like we had to risk more to protect people’s homes,” he said. “We are here to serve and protect and it’s not just people lives, it’s people things.”

Fires such as the ones he fought on this assignment have been more common in the wake of climate change, Kronick said. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, a leading environmental nonprofit, the average wildfire season is three and a half months longer than it was a few decades back, and the number of annual large fires in the West has tripled, burning twice as many acres.

Kronick said he’s seen a dramatic change just over the years he has been in service. “Twenty years ago, there had been only a couple of these mega fires,” he said. “The world is changing and it’s changing fast and it’s changing before our eyes.”

In light of these changes, Kronick said, he’s glad he can do something to help protect land, people and property from destruction. “It’s exciting, to say the least, and rewarding,” he said.