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Learning what makes fires tick
Local and state fire investigators train in Great Bend
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Great Bend Fire Department personnel and Kansas State Fire Marshal’s Office investigators watch an intentionally set blaze as they train to learn how to spot the causes of fires at Fire Station 2 Wednesday morning. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

In a role reversal, members of the Great Bend Fire Department and investigators from Kansas State Fire Marshal’s Office started a blaze Wednesday morning.

No, it wasn’t arson. It was practice.

KSFMO fire investigators from across the state, including State Fire Marshal Doug Jorgenson, gathered at GBFD’s Station 2 for joint training with local firefighters. “The Investigative Division of the Fire Marshal’s Office gets together for training twice each year,” said Topeka Based Chief Investigator Wally Roberts.

“We have a great relationship with the fire department here,” he said. That led to them choosing Great Bend this time around.

“We see a lot more fires than local investigators do,” Roberts said of the KSFMO’s 12 sworn investigators. They bring this experience to the Great Bend department and learn from each other.

“They asked if we’d be willing to host their regional training,” Great Bend Fire Chief Luke McCormick said. “It is a nice partnership. It allows my staff to integrate with their staff.”

This rapport works in times of emergencies as well, he said. “It’s great to know the state is there to give us guidance and expertise.”

The training

Using different types of materials Wednesday, KSFMO officers ignited flames in the GBFD’s burn building, a concrete structure resembling a home and used for such exercises. As flames raged and smoke billowed, they peered into the window to see how the fire progressed.

Then, the fire was extinguished and the officers went to work. Then entered, poked around and engaged the state’s two specially trained K-9s, taught to sniff out accelerants and other fire-starting substances.

“They save us hours of work,” Roberts said of the dogs. 

“We look for burn patterns,” Roberts said. They find the starting point of the fire by working their way from the least amount of damage to the heaviest, then look for clues to a cause.

They also work well with the Barton County Sheriff’s Office, Roberts said. They joined with BCSO on Tuesday at its shooting range where they trained on car fires.

The KSFMO consists of three divisions, Investigative, Prevention and Emergency Response with 64 staff members overall. The investigators, considered law enforcement officers, each cover one region of Kansas with the closest being stationed in Pawnee County.

The two dogs and their handlers each cover roughly half the state.

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Members of the Great Bend Fire Department and Kansas State Fire Marshal’s Office investigators prepare for training Wednesday morning. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune