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Community Feature SKT Employees Do Double Duty as Local Emergency Volunteers

SKT Employees Do Double Duty as Local Emergency Volunteers

Photo: Matt Tatum washes a Burden fire truck with his son. 

Volunteers are the lifeblood of rural fire and emergency medical departments. They’re always on call. Without them, rural residents and businesses would have to wait for urban departments to respond, which can leave precious time ticking away in sometimes life-threatening situations.

Dan McClaskey, SKT Central Office Technician, and Matt Tatum, SKT Service Technician, serve their community as volunteers for the local emergency services – Cowley County Fire District #3, better known as the Burden Fire Department. Dan is an EMT and the Assistant Fire Chief, and Matt is a Lieutenant, serving as a firefighter.

“If local people didn’t do it, we’d have to wait about 20 minutes for somebody to come do it for us – and that’s a long time to wait for an ambulance or a fire truck,” Dan said. “A volunteer is basically 24/7, 365. There’s nothing that says you have to respond, but somebody needs to respond … so if you’re in the area and you’re available, then basically, yes – you’re the same as on-duty.”

Often operating on shoestring budgets, rural emergency services departments work with what they’ve got and take help where they can get it. Some volunteers put in hundreds of extra hours during evenings and other free time, doing fabrication and maintenance of vehicles in-house to save money. Internet is another necessity for the department, and they’re one of many to receive free service from SKT. The Burden Fire Department uses their internet to submit reports to the State of Kansas Fire Marshall’s Office and to complete online training in conjunction with Cowley College, the State Fire Marshall, and various others. As part of our commitment to the communities we serve – beyond providing the latest tech and hometown service – SKT offers more than $55,000 in free high-speed internet annually to community buildings, law enforcement, fire stations and other emergency services buildings, libraries, museums, city pools, and more.

Community Feature: Burden Emergency Volunteers Working Together to Keep Rural Kansans Safe

SKT was founded in Burden in 1940, and the Burden Fire Department was first organized more than a decade later. Their current fire station was built around 1980. An all-volunteer organization, Burden Fire provides EMS first-response, fire-suppression, and other emergency services within the City of Burden and the surrounding rural area (two and one-half townships including Silver Creek, Sheridan, and half of Salem). They run between 170-190 calls per year, over 60 percent of which are medical calls; the rest are fire or different mutual-aid calls.

Burden Fire has three paramedics, three EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians), and four EMRs (Emergency Medical Responders). Using an older ambulance from Butler County for medical rescue, they are not licensed to transport patients; however, they are a first-response team, i.e., they get there first, assess, and treat accordingly, advising Winfield responders and working with them to mitigate situations.

As for fires, depending upon the type, Burden handles it themselves, or, through mutual aid agreements, receives aid from neighboring departments (Atlanta, Cambridge, Dexter, or Winfield), or responds by giving mutual aid to basically any district in the county when needed. Burden Fire has around 25 volunteer firefighters, one engine, four grass rigs (former military vehicles they’ve converted into fire trucks), and one tanker.

“A lot of times, a neighboring department needs water,” Dan explains. “They have the equipment, but they just don’t have the water out in the rural areas – where there’s not a hydrant on every corner. We have a 3,000-gallon tanker we use to haul water, both in the district and to neighboring districts, when needed.”

Depending on the time of year – in the late fall and over the winter when the grass is dead, and in the spring when area ranchers and farmers burn their pastures and may need assistance – grass-fire season can be a busy time.

Photo: Burden firefighters completed wild land fire live burn training in April utilizing a local controlled burn. These trainings are very important for both new and more experienced members, because it allows them to try tactics and strategies in a non-emergency setting, preparing them for the real deal.

Community Feature: Burden Emergency Volunteers Dan: Assistant Fire Chief, EMT, and Santa’s Chauffeur

Dan has been a Burden Fire volunteer since 1995, and he basically does a little bit of everything. As we mentioned before, he is an EMT and the Assistant Fire Chief. As an EMT, Dan took a college course to be certified through the state of Kansas. He is also certified as a Firefighter 1 (FF1) and Driver Operator (DO). While most of the firefighting training is done in-house at the Burden Fire Department, Dan received this specialized training through the KU Fire Service Training Program, which takes trailers to fire departments in Kansas for additional training, including live fire, driver simulator training, and grain entrapment rescue. Dan has attended all of these – some multiple times. He’s also the treasurer for the Fire Department, Fire Board, and the Firemen’s Relief Association. “I’m the one who writes the checks – and I don’t get one dime for anything I do for the Fire Department,” Dan declares half-jokingly. Because of his experience, he usually operates the truck or drives for fires.

Every Christmas, the city, police, and fire departments come together to bring Santa to the Burden City Building for the local kids. Santa arrives on a fire engine and Dan says, “I couldn’t tell you how long I’ve been driving Santa to the City Building. It’s been a long time – but that’s one of the things that I do every year … that’s kind of my gig.” Dan likes to hand out candy from the fire station at Halloween. He also notes a recent fundraiser by Burden Fire and multiple other fire, sheriff’s, EMS, and police departments in which over $26,000 was raised to help the family of a local high school student who was severely injured in a freak accident at his after-prom party in April. The Burden Fire Department not only responded to the accident, stabilized, and assisted – but in true small-town fashion, helped with the benefit for the family’s expenses.

Photo: Dan McClaskey at the station with his grandson.

Community Feature: Burden Emergency Volunteers Matt: Firefighting is in His Blood

Matt Tatum has been a volunteer firefighter since he was 16 years old, but even before that he was “up and around there doing stuff.” It must run in his family. Matt’s father and uncle have been Burden Fire volunteers since the 1990s; his brother and cousin have served in the past, and now his brother is a career firefighter for Winfield. Matt adds, “Burden’s been pretty successful, as far as they’ve had a pretty good Junior Fire Fighter program, so there have been several guys who have grown up in it and then gone on full-time, as an occupation. I know of at least six off the top of my head – either EMS or firefighters.” The Junior Fire Fighter program starts at age 16, with certain safety stipulations; at age 18 you’re “full-fledged,” Matt explains.

Photo: Junior Firefighter Abbi Bowman worked to put out a grass fire in her first emergency call. 


Why does he do it? Matt answers, “It’s a way to help the community out and it’s also something I enjoy doing. I don’t get to participate as much as I used to – with the family, you know – it all comes in cycles. Sometimes people have more time to get to it and sometimes people don’t. Like right now, I’ve got two small kids, so it’s difficult to make weekly meetings and stuff like that … and some years I’m there all the time, you know!”

They always need more help. He goes on to explain that especially in a small community it’s hard to find people who are available during the day – either certified on the medical side of it – or even just finding the manpower during grass fire season when they’re sending out multiple two-man trucks. “We deal with quite a bit of that over in this part of the country – we have some pretty big grass fires,” Matt said. He adds that he’s thankful SKT allows him to take off work to respond to emergencies whenever possible, which helps when there’s a shortage of daytime volunteers.

Thank you to Dan, Matt, and all the rural volunteers who work to keep our communities safe. We are proud to have you represent us out in the community. There are many volunteer departments throughout the SKT service area. If you are interested in volunteering, check with your local department or city for opportunities.

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