Where Do National Fire Requests Go?

Where Do National Fire Requests Go?

16 December 2013

published by http://magicvalley.com


USA — The center of the nation’s wildfire training and dispatch activity is tucked away behind the airport in Boise.

More than 400 personnel make up the National Interagency Fire Center — fire dispatchers, meteorologists, warehouse workers, firefighters and smokejumpers — many of whom gather information, receive and distribute calls for resources and respond to wildfires in any corner of the United States.

While eight federal agencies are stationed at NIFC, no single agency is the sole manager or director of the center. Instead, they work together in uniform tan buildings that each serve a different critical support year-round.

Dispatch Center

At the heart of the NIFC campus is the National Incident Communications Center (NICC).

The room is quiet in the winter, almost peaceful, with sunlight pouring in from its many windows. In the summertime, the space is alive with dispatchers, meteorologists and fire managers huddling in and out and taking thousands of calls requesting resources or information.

NIFC works with resource coordination centers from across the country.

It works on a three-tiered system for support: If a fire is reported in south-central Idaho, the call goes to the Shoshone dispatch center where they send firefighters out to suppress the flames. If the fire continues to grow, however, the agency managing the fire can ask for help from its geographic area, in this case, the East Basin coordination center in Utah. When they run out of resources, it can ask the NICC for help locating what it needs.

NIFC doesn’t fill requests, though, said Dave Hendren, NICC’s emergency operations coordinator. It distributes requests to other centers where they will send the requested resources like air tanker or radios or firefighting crews.

How long does it take to fill a request once it gets to NIFC? That depends, Hendren said. Calls are distributed immediately, but they may be categorized as lower priority if a larger wildfire is demanding more of the nation’s firefighting crews and supplies.

Radio Cache

The NIFC radio cache is the largest in the world, storing 8,000 handheld radios, 200 repeaters and 15 portable satellite systems.

Radios are still the primary source of communication used on wildfires. They work in remote areas where cell service is nowhere to be found.

The cache primarily sends radios to wildfires, but it also sends communication supplies to disaster areas like Hurricane Katrina and Haiti.

The cache has enough supplies to send radios to 53 major disasters at one time.

When the radios are returned, workers clean, reprogram, test and repair them as needed. Radio systems can be processed and sent back out to a wildfire within four to six hours.

Warehouse

Providing firefighters with enough food, water and supplies requires a warehouse big enough to store the supplies.

The NIFC warehouse is one of the nation’s 15 firefighting supply bases. The Costco-size warehouse is filled with aisles of carboxes. Inside the boxes are anything a firefighter might need: Canteens, tents, water pumps and even helicopter supplies.

More than two million pounds of supplies are shipped out every year, said Nicole Hallisey, assistant cache manager. Of that amount, the warehouse re-circulates almost 1.7 million pounds back to the warehouse where everything is cleaned and prepared to be shipped out again.

It is also the national storage center for training materials and operation manuals for fire suppression.

The warehouse holds enough supplies to outfit — from the protective clothes to helmets and packs — 1,000 to 1,800 firefighters in 24 hours, depending on the month, Hallisey said.

“This is a 24-hour business,” she said. “When I was a firefighter, we just got stuff in cardboard boxes. Now that I work on the other side, it’s a lot more than that.”

Smokejumper Base

One of Idaho’s two smokejumper bases are located on the NIFC campus.

Unlike the McCall location, this base is managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The only other smokejumper base not managed by the U.S. Forest Service is in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Considered an elite group of firefighters, smokejumpers parachute into remote places to put out flames. They pride themselves on being able to get to a wildfire faster than any other crew 20 miles out.

It only takes a smokejumper eight minutes to get in his suit and get on the plane once they are dispatched.
 


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