Firing Up Westport Volunteers

If you’re like many Connecticut residents, when you hear of wildfires in the West you think, “What a shame.”

Then — if you’re like me — you move on to news of the next catastrophe.

Michael Kronick and Robert Yost are doing more. Much more.

Robert Yost

Robert Yost

The pair — members of the Westport Fire Department — are actually fighting those fires.

They’re part of a 20-member Connecticut crew that’s battling the Black Fire in Idaho.

This is Yost’s 1st volunteer effort. Kronick, meanwhile, has served in the Western US several times, most recently last year in Northern California.

And that’s the key: It’s all volunteer. Westport’s firefighters are using their own vacation and time off to help save land and homes — and risking their own lives to do so.

Alert “06880” reader Steve Axthelm think that’s crazy.

“These 2 men are very courageous and generous,” he says.

Michael Kronick“But don’t you think we as a town and community ought to sponsor them — at least in part — so they don’t have to use vacation or personal time to help out there? Wouldn’t it be a fair and appropriate contribution to the needs of our fellow Americans?”

It would indeed. If you’ve got an idea of how to make that happen, click “Comments” below.

Michael Kronick and Robert Yost are doing plenty. Helping them is the least we can do.

7 responses to “Firing Up Westport Volunteers

  1. Thank You for your bravery in your dangerous work Mr.Kronick & Mr.Yost.

  2. Mary (Cookman) Schmerker Staples 1958

    I am surprized there aren’t more comments. Michael and Robert are ready every day to put their lives on the line for others. It is especially moving to know that they are volunteering out west and giving up their down time to do so. We have a son and his family who now live in Montana and have spent a large portion of their adult lives in the west. Our son was a newspaper reporter for years and reported on many fires. The fires are tragic, sometimes caused by natural events and sometimes due to human carelessness. Hey Westporters! You are a generous, inventive and talented group of people. Certainly someone has an idea of a way to encourage and support these men.

    • 🙁 SHOCKING… that nobody posted after us… when on the same day people happily posted about the jetty / beach photo & days ago over ONE HUNDRED comments defending having ten bathrooms in a six bedroom McMansion & how priceless antique homes should be razed to bring $$$ into town (in their view).

      Not only do firefighters risk their lives in extremely difficult circumstances but they can become seriously injured as well. (One firefighter in my Park Slope / Gowanus Brooklyn neighbourhood was severely burned when his equipment failed – so water got in his boots which boiled due to the heat).

      I no longer live in Westport. Not since HS graduation – then later a few months & years in my 20s (1970s & 2 yrs in mid 80s). Really really stunning… and sad…

      We love you firefighters <3

  3. While I greatly appreciate, respect and admire the volunteer efforts of these men, the wildfire situation in the West — at least here, where I live, in Montana — is greatly misunderstood and more complex than people realize. In many cases, past and ongoing efforts to fight and suppress these fires have worsened the situation.

    Our western forests evolved with, adapted to and depend on fire; fire is essential to the health of these forests. Different forest types evolved with various, differing fire regimes. For example, our low-elevation ponderosa pine forests were shaped by frequent, low-intensity natural fires that burned out the understory of Douglas-fir and grand fir, recycled nutrients, and created and maintained grassy pine savannas critical to deer, elk and other wildlife. The large pines have thick bark that make them resistant to fire. Our high-elevation lodgepole forests, on the other hand, evolved with and depend on less-frequent, high-intensity, “stand-replacement” fires that recycle and renew the forests every 100 years or so. (The serotinous cones of lodgepole require fire and extreme heat to germinate.)

    We have drastically altered and disrupted the natural ecology of these forests. In the low-elevation ponderosa pine forests, for example (where most towns, communities and homes exist) past cattle grazing reduced the grasses, forbs and other “fuels” that once carried the cleansing, low-intensity fires. The logging and high-grading of large pines diminished the presence of fire-resistant trees, and the suppression of fire allowed for an understory of thick firs to replace what was once open pine savannas.

    These thick, dense forests have become weakened by the over-competition for sun, nutrients and water (very limited in the arid West) — creating vast amounts of forests that are now highly-susceptible to disease and insect attacks (such as mountain pine beetle). Climate change — which has resulted in less snow, earlier snow melt and more drought — has exasperated the situation. We now have large expanses of forests made up of dead and dying trees. The “prefect storm,” of sorts, for the large, frequent, high-intensity fires we see today — fires that, in some places, are larger and more intense than what naturally occurred.

    It’s nature’s seemingly harsh way of correcting our mistakes. Unfortunately, it can have negative consequences for people.

    Add to all this that growing numbers of people are moving to places like Montana and building homes in these drastically-altered, fire-prone, fire-dependent forests. This is akin to building homes in a flood plain. It’s not a matter of “if” the wildfires will come — it’s a matter of “when” and “how big?”

    In this new, modern-day West most people have little understanding of forest ecology and the risks and potential consequences of their actions and decisions. Most won’t even take simple, common-sense precautions that can reduce the risks. Most want to “keep” the forests around their homes “as they are” (not understanding the dynamic, ever-changing nature of forests) and oppose science-based efforts to thin forests, return low-intensity fires and restore forest health. The situation has also made it difficult, if not impossible, to allow necessary fires to burn.

    So the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other federal and state agencies spend an obscene amount of money — and firefighters risk their lives — to save homes that have been built where they shouldn’t be while keeping forests less-healthy and perpetuating the problems.

    What would really help is to learn about forest ecology; support efforts to restore forests; stop the development occurring in fire-prone, fire-adapted forests; make room for and allow for some wildfires to burn, and require those who do live within these forests to implement actions, such as thinning, to reduce the risk to themselves and the brave firefighters who risk their lives fighting a perceived “enemy” of our making.