A day in the life of an Incident Management Team firefighter

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While it can’t be called a tent “city,” it was certainly a tent “village” when the Northwest Incident Management Team camped out at Barone Middle School. Pictured here is the main body of tents behind the school with many others scattered around the grounds.
DOC WATSON PHOTO

By DOC WATSON

Special to the Herald Times

MEEKER | Meeker was for several days host to the Northwest Incident Management Team 11, which from its base at the Barone Middle School managed the Fawn, Sprague, Smith and Ridgetop fires. With all the fires in Colorado this year, it became necessary to call in such an interagency team that unites federal, state, and local agencies and resources.

While the primary purpose of an IMT is wildfire response, it can respond to many other emergencies, such as: floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunami, riots and other natural or human-caused incidents.

The day begins at 5 a.m. for an IMT, followed by breakfast and then the daily briefing at 6 a.m. Here everyone receives a copy of the Incident Action Plan, a critical document that is updated daily and prepared for this particular team by Dave Wischer, resource unit leader.

Its many pages specify such things as: fire behavior forecast, weather, an assignment list for each fire specifying the personnel and equipment needed for that day, radio frequencies, available aircraft, a map for each fire showing its status and other vital information.

“This is ‘the bible’ for everybody,” Bob Johnson, deputy incident commander, said. “We use this to direct the operations, keep people safe and pass on information.”

After the briefing, personnel head out in their vehicles to their assigned duties. Depending upon each fire, a day can last 12-16 hours, although around 12–14 is typical. Also depending upon each fire, a night shift might be needed, although not in any of these fires.

The specific task for all of the crews on the day of this interview was to continue to mop-up and begin fire suppression repair with an overall purpose of preventing any escape of fire and repairing the landscape to pre-fire conditions.

In addition to these four fire “incidents,” the Incident Action Plan contained another incident called “Initial Attack,” which is a crew tasked with being ready to respond to and suppress new fire starts, since lightning is a constant concern.

“These resources are ready to roll,” Johnson said. “A lot of times we will have them on an existing fire mopping up or doing other things, but have them in a position where they can very quickly be extracted and go wherever needed.”

At day’s end, there’s a debrief of those who have new information about a fire that will help in preparation for the next day’s Incident Action Plan.

“Then they run for the chow line, right?” Johnson interjected with a chuckle. “We’ve got a good caterer that provides a hearty meal followed by a shower. There really isn’t much else they can do in a day after spending 12-16 hours on a fire line. That only leaves a few hours for rest to be back up again at 5 a.m.”

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