The work firefighters do and have done on the Lake Christine Fire and many others across the western United States is amazing and should not go unnoticed. But there are many faces behind the scenes that are just as crucial to the fire-fighting effort.
The Lake Christine Fire currently has eight different units stationed at the incident command center in El Jebel. These include the supply unit, communications, finance, medical, security, ground support, dining and showering facilities. Each unit contains multiple people who work around the clock to make sure firefighters have what they need to battle the blaze in the field.
Information officer Gerry Perry explains how a wildfire operation is often modeled after a military system and modified to fit the needs of fighting a fire.
“It seems like a very complicated situation … but we try to break it down into sections, and every section has their own role towards a common mission,” said Perry.
A four-man operations crew makes daily assessments in the field to determine what the mission and objective will be for the start of a new day. The operations crew, which is led by an incident commander, plans the battle that the fire crews put into place out on the lines. This information is sent over every morning at 7 a.m. to the supply unit, which orders and oversees every aspect of the operation.
Supply Unit Leader for the Lake Christine Fire Linda Blondeau looks over spreadsheets of materials needed and materials ordered for the fire crews at the incident command center
“This is the one position on an incident where you know everything that is going on because everything goes through you,” explained Chief of Logistics Dave Klym of the supply unit.
Also located at the incident command center are the communications and medical units that often work side by side to ensure the safety of the fire crews out on the lines.
Communications crew members look through updated information about active fires around the west at the incident command center for the Lake Christine Fire.
The communications unit makes sure there is an interconnectivity among all individual crews in the field. Each crew is supplied with three or four radios. The communication unit is in constant contact with firefighters on the ground and in the air, and makes sure everyone is on the same page. Also in the communications unit is a meteorologist who tracks weather patterns and incoming storms that may jeopardize the safety of the firefighters in the field.
Denver firefighter Dave Powell has been the Incident Command Manager for the Lake Christine Fire in the communications tent at the command center in El Jebel.
EMT Monte White explains the active roles the medics and communication crews play during an wildfire and how the two work closely together to ensure the safety of those out on the lines.
Every fire-fighting crew is equipped with a basic field first-aid kit, but for more pressing needs there is an on-site medical team at the command center. If a firefighter gets injured on the line, the medical team and communications unit work together to find the best approach to getting medical aid to that person.
EMT Monte White, left, and Dave Klym leave the medical tent at the incident command center for the Lake Christine Fire that broke out in Basalt last week.
EMT Monte White explained that the most common complaint during the early fire-fighting season is blistered feet because the firefighters are still adjusting to the heavy activity and often 16-hour days hard labor and being on their feet. By the end of the season the most common complaint is cold and flu symptoms often referred to as “camp crud,” simply because the crews have exhausted their bodies and their immune systems are shot.
The fire camp, or tent city, is where the firefighters live for the duration of their stay. The camp for the Lake Christine Fire includes a mess hall, showering facilities and hundreds of tents used as temporary housing. For Stars Catering and US Foods have been providing daily meals for the firefighters. This includes a full breakfast from 5-9 a.m., a sack lunch and dinner from 5-10 p.m. The sack lunch includes easy-to-eat snacks so firefighters can eat on the go since they are rarely given the chance to stop for more than 30 minutes while out on the lines.
For Stars Catering Unit Manager Dave Pena explains the work that has gone into feeding the hundreds of firefighters and crew members during the Lake Christine Fire.
A For Stars Catering crew member prepares plates for firefighters at the fire camp for the Lake Christine Fire in El Jebel.
Every person and unit involved in an incident command center plays an active role toward a common mission. Around-the-clock work and communication keeps a command center flowing.
“Unity is crucial; there is no one that is involved in these incidents that doesn’t have a crucial role,” explained Perry.
All photos, video and story by PI Staff Photographer Chelsea Self. firstname.lastname@example.org.
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