Choctaw Forestry Department protects native lands

Wallace Kitchel of the Choctaw Nation Forestry Department on a two-week fire assignment in Abilene, Texas. Photo provided.

Choctaw Nation

The Choctaw Nation Tribal Forestry Services Department is a forestry wildland fire-fighting unit within the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Located in Talihina, Okla., the department serves all 10 ½ counties within the Nation including McCurtain, LeFlore, Haskell, Latimer, Pushmataha, Choctaw, Bryan, Atoka, Pittsburg, Coal and southern half of Hughes County.

The forestry team has eight crew members who are on call 24 hours a day and ready to respond to emergency situations across the United States. These employees are nationally trained to manage wildland fires and other natural disasters. Their training ranges from a basic entry level firefighter to advanced incident management supervisory positions. They spend countless hours obtaining training and the necessary experience to be able to manage these complex incidents. 

The team not only protects Choctaw land but is called out nationwide for large wildfires and natural disasters. In 2018 the forestry team has assisted in 16 wildfires consisting of 10,586 acres within Choctaw Nation and 38,500 acres in western Oklahoma and Florida. 

With the summer months getting hotter and Fourth of July approaching the risk of wildfires increases. According to the National Fire Protection Association fireworks caused an estimated 15,600 reported fires in the U.S., including 1,400 structure fires, 200 vehicle fires, and 14,000 outside and other fires in 2013. 

Choctaw Nation Fire Prevention Technician Joshua Bates recommends using safety precautions at all times. 

Use fireworks only under adult supervision. Fireworks can cause serious injuries and burns if not used properly, as well as start a fire. Be sure to have water, a shovel and sand available to put out fireworks or small grass fires. Parking lots, plowed fields and open areas with shortly mowed grass are generally safe areas to use fireworks. Never use fireworks over tall grass or weeds.

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