Butler County fire chief on battling western wildfires: ‘It’s got a long way to go’

Morgan Twp. Fire Chief Jeff Galloway has boots on the ground in California helping battle raging wildfires.
Morgan Twp. Fire Chief Jeff Galloway has boots on the ground in California helping battle raging wildfires.

Credit: Submitted

Credit: Submitted

A Butler County fire chief has his boots on the ground in California helping about 730 firefighters battle the raging wildfires in Big Sur.

Morgan Twp. Fire Chief Jeff Galloway is part of the Federal Wildland Fire Association Incident Management Team, serving as a liaison and safety officer managing the Dolan fire. He left on Thursday and will return Sept. 26.

“We’re like the conduit, the middleman between the incident commander and the team and then all the stakeholders like city leaders, city officials, sheriff, police officers, fire chiefs,” he said. “We keep them updated on the fire and things like that.”

He has been stationed at the command post but has seen the devastation. He said it is so smoky they basically can’t use an aerial attack.

“I think it’s up to 118,000 acres and we‘ve had some issues with spot fires,” Galloway said. “It’s only like 40% contained so it’s got a long way to go. The wind is just a howling and blowing so I’m sure the fire is kicking up again, it usually does this time a day. The terrain out here is so steep and rugged it’s hard to fight the fires."

ExploreButler County EMA helping with 1,000-plus missions in Florida for hurricane relief

Galloway said dealing with the massive fires in the middle of a pandemic has been unique part of the mission. No one has tested positive yet.

“It’s very odd, you have to wear a mask all day in camp, when we have meetings we have to stay six feet apart,” he said. “We have three people here from the health department that do nothing but COVID monitoring and checking. It’s different.”

Galloway was requested to be part of this effort. He has been with the federal incident management team since 2002 when a friend from Arizona told him he should join. A year later he responded with the team to the Columbia Space Shuttle crash.

“I’m on a Type 1 team, which means this is like the elite, this is like the largest teams there are, we handle the biggest and most major incidents,” Galloway told the Journal-News.

The Butler County Emergency Management Agency and Ohio Task Force 1 have not been deployed. Ohio Task Force One Program Manager Evan Schumann said his group has one member in Oregon working on the incident command team for search and rescue. The team went to help with Hurricane Laura a few weeks ago. Ohio Task Force 1 is also an elite group of 215 to 220 first responders.

People must apply to be on the team and it generally takes a year or two – three to four years for a canine team member — to be ready to be deployed. Schumann said they usually cull new members by word of mouth from current team members who recognize talent.

There are six primary teams on the task force: rescue, search, logistics, medical, planning and HAZMAT. It is up to the team managers to select members to go on a given mission based on “team training attendance and their assessment of operational capability plus the type of event.”

There are more than 70 participating agencies, and in Butler County there are team members from Fairfield, Hamilton, Liberty Twp., Monroe and West Chester Twp., according to Schumann.

Liberty Twp. Battalion Chief Jason Knollman has been a member of Task Force 1 for about 10 years and the amount of training they get is “incomprehensible."

He said there are about a dozen Liberty firefighters on the county’s technical rescue team, three on the county incident management team and he is the only one on the state team. When they are asked to respond to out-of-town incidents “we peruse the schedule real quick to make sure it isn’t going to put us in a bad way.”

While deployed whether as a county EMA member or for the federal teams salaries and expenses are paid by the entity that needs help.

Knollman said he risks his life to be on the elite team because of the premiere training, but it is also “exciting and different.”

“For me it’s the training experience and having the knowledge to be comfortable with probably just about anything I could get sent on here...,” Knollman said. “It’s an adventure, it’s a good time and it’s always a great experience you can bring back, even just the personnel management and leadership skills that you can learn, good, bad or indifferent on a high stress event.”