The More Things Change: Managing a fire takes a lot of well-trained people

One of the most difficult things about living in a rural area is the remoteness. Fortunately, those of us who live near Cordes Junction benefit from having primary physicians, a pharmacy, and some shopping close by. We also have the most incredible firefighters this side of anywhere, and boy, are we grateful for them!

The diligence of our local firefighters and the hundreds of other fire professionals brought in to battle the Goodwin inferno is exemplary. Watching flames glow in the night sky as the conflagration destroyed familiar terrain is quite nerve wracking. We salute you!

Incident Command is an integral part of every disaster, natural or manmade. It’s not just a handful of people showing up and one or two taking charge, like some people think. Started by the Wildfire Service, the structure has a definite chain of command that has been perfected over the last couple of decades. My late husband, Pip, was active in emergency management when we met. It wasn’t long until I attended Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) meetings with him, eventually becoming a CERT instructor. FEMA certification as a Situation Unit Leader, Resource Unit Leader, along with Vermont State and FEMA certification as a Public Information Officer soon followed. We worked several disasters, ranging from extreme flooding and fires, to train derailments leaking gasoline and other hazardous wastes. I still keep a go bag near my front door.

A big problem that teams encounter is untrained persons who want to help, whether it’s trying to fight the fire, or bringing water to firemen who are in the field. Their enthusiasm is understandable, but their presence is dangerous — to themselves and to the firefighters on the job. Their presence actually impedes the process. Odds of an off-the-street “volunteer” getting hurt is very high. They could die. At the least, crucial personnel are required to rescue and provide medical treatment, preventing those who know what they are doing from working to contain the blaze. As far as water, firefighters are not sent out without supplies. If you want to provide water, find out from the website devoted to the incident what donations are needed, if any.

One more thing, it’s easy to sit in a chair and speculate what equipment is needed. That’s what the Resource Unit Leader does. He or she has to know every type of equipment, personnel, and supplies that are available, whether ground or air. Air support is determined by the size of the fire and the terrain, not merely by the number of gallons the plane or helicopter holds. The Resource Unit Leader has to work closely and know about air resources, too, along with all types of ground vehicles, what they do, personnel capacity, their availability, and, again, the terrain each best serves. Budget is also a consideration, depending upon the state and federal mandates.

Managing a fire takes a lot of people who have undergone immense amounts of training. We are grateful for all of you!

Until next time.