Friday, September 25, 2020-Stevenson, WA-Stevenson-Carson School District has teamed up with Incident Management to allow the use of a school building as a headquarters to help fight a nearby wildfire. Northwest Incident Management started using the Wind River Middle School as the Incident Command Post (ICP) to fight the Big Hollow wildfire, a fire encompassing nearly 25,000 acres north of Carson, earlier in September. On Monday, September 21, Southern Area Incident Management took command of the fire in the Stevenson-Carson area and will continue to use the school.
A number of staff members operate from the school to ensure firefighters can efficiently and effectively strategize their work. “The Incident Commander and support staff work from within the ICP,” explained Mary Beane, who serves as Public Information Officer for Northwest Incident Management Team 12. “Staff members serve a variety of functions to support the firefighters and firefighting including Public Information Officer, Safety Officer, Liaison Officer, Operations Section Chief, Planning Section Chief, Logistics Section Chief, and Financial Section Chief.”
The firefighters are stationed at two other locations, a base camp located beyond the Wind River Work Center and a “spike camp” located near Amboy. “There are nearly 300 people assigned to this incident with 35 living and operating out of Wind River Middle School,” said Bean. “Normally, all fire personnel operate from the same location, however, current COVID-19 mitigations dictate that we practice social distancing which requires more space than we typically need.”
While Stevenson-Carson teachers are still using the school’s classrooms to teach remotely, the middle school has been divided so the Incident Management Team (IMT) uses part of the facility while teaching staff continue to use the classrooms without interruption. Finding an available school building was a huge benefit for the IMT. “Schools often offer the kind of amenities we need including office space and internet access,” said Bean. “Normally, school buildings aren’t available this late in the fire season as classes are back in session, so we were lucky to find Wind River Middle School mainly unused at this time.”
When schools are not available, the IMT must locate in a variety of other options, many of which offer no shelter against the elements such as fairgrounds, rodeo grounds, campgrounds, and open fields. “Most often, we choose a large area that can accommodate all of the firefighters; the command staff; their tents which number in the hundreds; large shower units that resemble semi-truck trailers; kitchens including cooking and serving areas; coolers and freezers; portable toilets, and a cache of supplies ranging from cases of water to firefighter protective clothing.” In order to allow the IMT to work regardless of climate conditions, the team uses yurts as offices which feature generators for electricity as well as cooling and heating systems.
A typical workday for a firefighter
Given the complexity and size of the Big Hollow wildfire, the team assigns a variety of roles to different professionals in order to strategize and fight the fire. However, there are several elements to the workday the entire team shares. “Most folks in fire camp get up when it’s dark outside, prepare breakfast in the camp kitchen, and then collect their equipment for the day,” explained Bean. “Everyone attends the Morning Briefing presented by the management staff and consists of presentations on fire weather, fire behavior, the day’s planned operations, communications, safety, logistical information, and, when appropriate, messages from the Human Resources Specialist and the Public Information Officer.”
Following the briefing, division supervisors manage crews who head out into the field to actively construct fire lines, lay hose lines, set sprinklers, scout for contingent containment opportunities, and a variety of other activities. At the end of their shift, crews return to the camp to eat, shower, and sleep before heading out the next day to do it all again.
How community members can support Incident Management Teams
Many members of the Stevenson-Carson community have reached out to offer support the Incident Management Teams, however, restrictions due to the pandemic limit options to help out. “We greatly appreciate the outreach, but we cannot accept donations of food or supplies in order to take extra precautions to limit the potential spread of COVID-19,” explained Bean.
Alternatively, community members can donate food to their local food bank or consider making financial donations to the Red Cross at www.redcross.org/about-us/our-work/disaster-relief/wildfire-relief.html or the Wildland Firefighter Foundation at www.wffoundation.org. “Placing thank-you signs along the road is also a great way to show appreciation for firefighters and you can share photographs by using the hashtag #BigHollowFire on social media,” said Bean.
As for the ongoing partnership between the Stevenson-Carson School District and Incident Management Teams, Bean said the teams are grateful, “We’d like to express our sincere appreciation to the Stevenson-Carson School District and the communities we’ve served for their generous support of our team and our firefighters.”