Initial Attack Incident Commander: Day 2

On day two, my assumptions about the incident we familiarized ourselves with and practiced in the sand table were reaffirmed. We’d been mocking up a fire in Washington, in the Methow valley, near Woods Canyon Road. We were commanding plastic toy trucks, small plastic airplanes and helicopters, making decisions concerning firefighter and public safety, leaders intent, priorities, objectives, strategy and trying to see the big picture. And the big whammy was our little scenario was a quarter mile from where Richard Wheeler, Andrew Zbysewski, and Andrew Zajac were killed on the Twisp River Fire in the Methow Valley in August of 2015.

Far left road running north towards timber in our scenario was Woods Canyon Road

Would we go type 3, do we have food to feed these people, would our resources on scene be working a long shift or would night resources arrive in time to get a proper briefing and go out to the line? If we had one tanker where would our retardant drop/s be most effective considering turnaround time and values at risk? We didn’t know we were a few hundred feet from the fatality site when making these decisions as IA IC 4 in the safe confines of a community college classroom. But I maintained this voice in my head, telling me this was ripping: it was 2015 and fire was everywhere.

Carpenter Road Fire when all resources were pulled out in my division, August 2015

Our little scenario brought back my experience and time up in Washington when the Twisp River Fire fatalities became public knowledge. I was working on a type 3 engine on the Carpenter Road Fire, some 140 miles away, and the conditions and fuels were pretty “explosive” at times. I heard about the fatalities that day, in chow line, and then again at briefing for the next 3-4 days. The local FMO up there would get up on stage, and frantically yell at those attending: “NOBODY IS GOING TO DIE ON OUR FIRE!”. And we’d be left to get our assignments and head out to the line with that sentiment echoing through the cab on the bumpy ride to work.

Of course our sand table exercise was compounded with a medical, and we discussed how we’d respond, what line EMT’s were there, any paramedics, who had basic life support and who had advanced life support, and what we’d do in the meantime until more assistance arrived. Fortunately for us taking s200, nobody died and our objectives were met; our unified command with local law enforcement and the rural fire department was seamless, and if we had made a handoff to a type 3 or type 2, we had everything in place and everything accounted for – everything was organized including all our paperwork; the resources we needed and wanted were somehow en route or would arrive in the morning, right? Yeah, right. After we sufficiently appeased the second instructor leading this portion of the sand table (a retired AD member of a type 2 incident management team), we returned to the classroom to digest as a class what was covered.

Another item pulled from the instructors toolbox for this class was the Gregg Creek FLA. I’ve had the privilege of previously hearing from the Willamette National Forest’s FMO at the time the intricacies of this particular situation, and had also previously watched the video. So I felt very much involved, and having been on the Willamette multiple times for extended periods, I felt akin to that country and people. The ground is ridiculously steep, some crazy brush monkey shit at times. So hearing that somebody got messed up in their backcountry on a fire wasn’t that surprising. What is difficult and frustrating is watching the video and trying to grapple with the huge cluster$#@! that ensued. My biggest issue with the incident was how easily it is decided to hike out of unforgiving country at dark, rather than sleeping on it. Is this true risk mitigation, or rather, just a comfort thing? It got me wondering if my crew was prepared the way we should be, to do that, if we had to. And are we taking in a backboard with us? Are we really scouting adequately the access to our fire? Is that two-track really no good or can it, with little work, be made usable? But the main emphasis on this incident is really with the short haul, and what a mess it turned into trying to get one in the dark for an injury that wasn’t life threatening.

This class was great. On day two, I was directed towards thinking about the management of the incident and had many resources brought to the forefront to do so. Below is a list of some of the things I can use to develop myself further:

1. Gregg Creek FLA: While we spent a substantial amount on this, I believe working on similar sand table exercises, etc., would help bring it home
2. Alabaugh Fire: We went through this, but could spend more time on it
3. In terms of managing the incident, making sure my phone list is adequate, both on district and when I am delegated authority as an incoming resource on a different forest
4. Tying to understand the varying intricacies of who needs to be contacted for what resources (related to Gregg Creek)
5. Deer Park: I studied this awhile back, but after taking the course, would like to revisit
6. Andy Palmer: Same – studied, re-visit
7. Try bouncing more ideas off people, concerning alternatives – tactically, strategically, and medically
8. Practice organization in preparation for management and transitioning or handing off the incident: “Nothing is worse than a bad handoff”
9. Seeing about incorporating other agencies in our training to facilitate some of the unified command we experience throughout the season
10. Get in the habit of writing evaluations as a courtesy

Below are some of the other videos we watched, studied and discussed.


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