How do they to it? A closer look at the Incident Command System at the Mcgrath Fire Base

The Laguna Fire of 1970 scorched more than 175,000 acres east of San Diego, California, killing 16 people and costing taxpayers $234 million. Resulting studies of the Laguna Fire and other catastrophic fires found that failures in communications and management — not a lack of resources or the tactical efforts of firefighters and first responders — were largely at fault. The lack of accountability and a clear “chain of command” were cited as primary deficiencies. Today the Incident Command System (ICS) is a central component of emergency response efforts for “all-risk” incidents, including wildfires, terrorist attacks, and environmental disasters. The ICS is also utilized for planned events such as presidential inaugurations and Super Bowls.

The level of emergency management response allocated for any incident depends upon the scope, size and complexity of the incident. A Type 1 incident and corresponding Incident Management Team Type 1 manages the most complex incidents, while Type 5 incidents don’t require a preset IMT— just an IC and those positions needed for operations and support.

Southwest Area Firefighters Prepare to Deploy to the Lost Jack Lake Fire Near Nikolai.

The strength of the ICS is its structure. Starting from the top, the incident commander (IC) is responsible and accountable for every person and every piece of equipment assigned to an incident. If this sounds daunting, the IC has plenty of help. The IC’s command staff includes the safety officer, a liaison officer who interfaces with area agency representatives and local “cooperators,” and a public information officer who communicates the IC’s intent, strategy, tactics, current status of the incident and special messages to the public and media. All re- maining positions are part of the general staff, and divided into branches, divisions, groups, sections and units, depending upon the complexity of the incident.

F.L.O.P may not sound flattering, but it can be a helpful acronym to remember and understand the basic structure of the general staff.

“F” is for finance – managing costs, compensation and claims, and procurement – also known as a “buying team.”

“L” is for logistics – managing service and support functions including communications, medical, and food units, and supplies, facilities, and ground support — maintaining vehi- cles, equipment inspection and repair, and transportation of firefighters to and from incidents.

Emergency Firefighter Adam Nikolai Fills Water Cubees at the DNR McGrath Fire Base.

“O” is for operations – divided into separate branches for ground operations and air opera- tions — responsible for air attack (reconnaissance and airspace management), air tanker oper- ations, helicopter operations, and unmanned aerial systems (drones utilized for image gather- ing and tactical operations). On the ground, division supervisors manage strike teams – re- sources of the same kind (fire engines or “hand crews” including “hotshot crews” – 20 person teams using chainsaws, pulaskis and scraping tools) and task forces – resources of mixed types designated for the same task – for example, defending a subdivision of homes. Single- resources include entire crews, or individuals including specialists such as field observers.

“P” is for planning – managing the demobilization and check-in of firefighters and equip- ment, documentation (record keeping of all incident forms), resources (tracking location and the status of resources working on the incident, and producing the incident action plan (IAP) – a daily document listing resource assignments, weather forecasts, radio frequencies, and safety information. The planning section also manages the situation unit, responsible for generating accurate maps, weather forecasts and gathering intel from field observers and operations.

DNR McGrath Firebase Aviation Supervisor Matt Snyder Walks Through Housing Area.

At the DNR McGrath Fire Base, every lead position and basic service listed above is being per- formed by ten permanent seasonal employees and a collection of emergency firefighters (EFF) and administratively determined (AD) contracted specialists. As operations in the field expand and contract, and fire activity grows and slows, the organizational structure of the ICS in place at the DNR McGrath Fire Base also “ramps-up” or “scales-back”.

The DNR MatSu-Southwest Area manages 88 million acres and encompasses the DNR Mc- Grath Fire Base, a forward-operating wildland firefighting facility employing specialists from the local area and well beyond. “I like to keep it lean when I can,” said Seth Ross, Assistant Fire Management Officer (AFMO) of the MatSu-Southwest Alaska Area.

Now is one of those times when “leaner” is most operationally and cost-effective. On Monday, fifteen members of the DNR support staff — having reached the end of two-three week assignments — will be released to their home units, some traveling great distances. These include planning and situation specialists, timekeepers, logistical support including a fueler, and a public information officer from Boise, Idaho.

Fireweed in Bloom at the DNR McGrath Fire Base Ramp.

Photos: Mike McMillan – DNR

Categories: Active Wildland Fire, AK Fire Info, Alaska DNR - Division of Forestry (DOF)

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