Community Looks to Future Emergency Responses Following Oakhurst Fire Closure

Sapulpa, Tulsa, and Berryhill Fire Departments will take over emergency responses in Oakhurst, following Oakhurst Fire Department's closure. Area residents questioned Tuesday what that means for them."We want to not be lost in the shuffle," said Oakhurst resident Joanna Carriger. She lives near the fire department's building. She said a dog bit her son about three weeks ago and she could not get emergency crews to respond to the attack since the department was without its only truck. She said she is not sure the closure of the Oakhurst Fire Department will make for a noticeable difference.A fire board voted Monday night to close the department. The Oakhurst Fire Department was run entirely by volunteers.County Commissioner Karen Keith said the department has struggled for several years. "They have always constantly had financial problems, equipment problems, and gear problems. Gear puts those young people at risk," Keith said. She said the volunteers always meant well, but that there are difficulties in the volunteer-run format. She said it takes time for volunteers to leave work, pick up their gear, and respond to an emergency. Keith also said she heard about instances where only one person responded to fight a fire. The department's only fire truck experienced a brake failure a few weeks ago, sending a firefighter to the hospital. The department told Channel 8 it planned to fundraise to purchase a new truck.Berryhill Fire Chief Michael Hall said the closure does not mean a bigger burden for Berryhill firefighters, because they already respond to emergencies there. He said Berryhill firefighters will likely respond to Oakhurst 25 to 30 times a year. Hall said response times will not suffer."We responded to a house fire over in Oakhurst back in March, and it was about a block away from their fire station. Tulsa had a full assignment. We had a truck there before their truck made it to the scene," Hall said. He said some of that speed comes from having a full-time staff, ready to go at any time.He said Berryhill has about 25 volunteers and seven full-time staff members. He requires all of his firefighters to have Emergency Medical Technician training. He said each firefighter's training costs somewhere around $4,000.Keith and Hall agreed that the Oakhurst Fire Department did not have to meet strict training standards. Hall said he is open to training and taking on some Oakhurst firefighters if they are interested.Samuel Tinker is a volunteer firefighter with the Oakhurst Fire Department. He said the vote is "really disappointing."

He added many people are speaking against the department about issues they do not know about. He said their equipment is operable and they were in the process of enrolling in training programs through OSU.