Rapid City Journal: "Keep fire center at airport"

Northern Great Plains DispatchThe Rapid City Journal has taken sides in the battle between the Federal Aviation Administration and the wildland fire agencies in the FAA’s efforts to evict the Northern Great Plains Interagency Dispatch Center from the Rapid City Regional Airport.

The FAA wants to evict the dispatch center, tear down the building, and then allow a private company to use the space to build an aircraft hanger.

An editorial in today’s Rapid City Journal calls this “bad fiscal policy and bad firefighting policy”. And:

“…public safety issues of wildfire suppression should take precedence over the needs of the private sector for bigger and better hangar space.”

They are absolutely right. All involved parties agreed to have the dispatch center at the airport. They spent $1.8 million to build it, and to tear it down after just a few years would be an incredible waste of taxpayers’ dollars.


CIA pays full cost of liability insurance for employees

The federal land management agencies pay only 50% of the the cost of professional liability insurance for their fire personnel, but the CIA recently decided to pay 100% in a new policy reported on March 17 by the Associated Press. It’s good to see that a priority in the CIA is taking care of their own.

“WASHINGTON (AP) — The CIA announced Monday that it will now pay the full cost of legal liability insurance for about two-thirds of the agency workforce.

The insurance costs about $300 a year. Until now the CIA has paid just half of the premium annually. Only about 15 percent of eligible employees actually apply for reimbursement.

One shift is already looming: A change in administrations could make it more likely lawsuits will be filed against CIA interrogators for a controversial program approved by the Bush White House — the use of harsh interrogation techniques and the secret movement of prisoners, known as extraordinary rendition.

The insurance comes from private companies to cover legal expenses that arise out of actions undertaken in the course of a CIA officer’s official duties. It is meant to cover potential litigation expenses including damages. It covers legal expenses associated only with those activities undertaken after liability insurance is taken. The reimbursement program began in 2000.

Agency Director Michael Hayden on Monday announced that he had expanded the pool of those eligible to be reimbursed for insurance to include all employees involved in covert activities, not just those involved in counterterrorism and counterproliferation.

Any agency employee who supervises one or more employees is eligible to be reimbursed as will attorneys, grievance officers, equal employment opportunity counselors, auditors, IG inspectors and investigators, polygraph examiners, recruiters or hiring advisers and security officers.

“This benefit will help keep agency employees focused on accomplishing the mission, rather than being concerned about potential litigation costs that might arise as a result of doing their jobs,” said CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield.”

Virginia: St. Mary’s fire

The St. Mary’s fire on the George Washington National Forest has grown to 4,060 acres. (UPDATE March 30; 4,505 acres) It’s interesting the way the media describes the aerial ignition operation.

From The News Virginian, an excerpt:”Instead of rain, a helicopter dropped a hailstorm of ping-pong-ball-sized balls of a chemical that, with a delayed reaction of about 10 seconds, started a potent fire – on the east and west slopes of the ridge leading to Route 56. It’s known as a backfire operation, McPhereson said, and it worked to contain the fire.

Helitorch photo by Bill Gabbert

At the same time that was happening, most of the 121 people involved, from federal and state agencies to local volunteers, were out burning terrain along the road leading away from the bulldozer line, according to Charlie Rudacille, normally with Shenandoah National Park but one of those assisting in controlling the fire.

The helicopter chemical drops, he said, would help prevent big runs with the fires and would lessen their intensity.

In the half-hour it took for the helicopter to drop the many thousands of chemical balls and make its way around both sides of the ridge, visibility was reduced to near-zero as heavy, dark-brown smoke filled the sky and bright orange flames dotted the slopes.

“If it all goes well, in an hour it’ll be boring,” Rudacille said while the helicopter was in the air.

The gusting, 15 to 20 mph winds – blowing the fire northeast, away from the west slope – was a blessing to the firefighters, as were the dry, overcast conditions. But Rudacille was aware of forecasts calling for a chance of thunderstorms later in the day.

“The thunderstorm, and the erratic winds associated with the thunderstorm, would be a problem,” Rudacille said.”

InciWeb has more details.

Fire simulator training in Prescott, AZ

Fire simulators can provide a very valuable opportunity to test and improve your firefighting skills. On the Cleveland National Forest we used to use four overhead projectors to produce images of the landscape, smoke, and fire on a rear projection screen, two 4-track reel-to-reel tape recorders and a mixing board for sound effects, and up to 10 people to run the simulation and act as role players. I have not seen the new computer-based simulator that is being used this year, but I hope it is at least as realistic as the earlier systems.

The Daily Courier in Prescot, AZ has a story about firefighters going through an exercise using a simulator and sand table.

Here is an excerpt:

Well aware that numerous agencies often come together suddenly to battle dangerous wildfires, Prescott-area agencies gather each year to brush up their skills before the traditional wildfire season begins.

Prescott fire training
“Firefighters from a variety of agencies look over a sand table model to plan their next action steps for the 1,200 acre fire they were responding to as part of the annual Basin Drill at the Prescott Fire Center. Photo courtesy of The Daily Courier, Les Stukenberg

“We’re testing ourselves to a level we’ve never tested before,” Prescott Fire Chief Darrel Willis said as he surveyed more than 50 people in the incident command center room alone. “Look at all the agencies here. There’s a comfort level when you see people you know. We know what we can expect from those people.”

Such training can save the lives of firefighters as well as citizens who live in wildfire-prone areas of the Prescott region.

“Communications are always going to be difficult,” Bentley said, so training helps immensely with smoothing out radio compatibility issues. Firefighters also learned some lessons about setting up an incident command system quickly so the span of control is clear, he said.

The sand tables are literally that – wooden tables covered with sand that firefighters mold to mimic the actual fire terrain. They add miniature trees, homes and fire trucks to the scene. They move red strings and cotton balls forward to represent an advancing wall of fire.

The Forest Service started making its computer simulator widely available just this year, Bentley said.

Fire instructors input U.S. Geological Survey computerized topographical maps into the simulator, then add as many as 20 types of homes along with local vegetation, roads, streams and even propane tanks.”

PLI insurance reimbursement available to federal "temporary fire managers"

On December 26, 2007, President Bush signed Public Law 110-161, the Consolidated Appropriation Act, 2008 which expands coverage for reimbursement of professional liability insurance to “temporary fire line managers.” The US Forest Service sent out three memos that provide more information for their firefighters. In part they say:

To qualify, these “temporary fire line managers” must meet one of the following three criteria:

1. Provide temporary supervision or management of personnel engaged in wildland or managed fire activities,
2. Provide analysis or information that affects a supervisor’s or manager’s decision about a wildland or managed fire, or
3. Direct the deployment of equipment for a wildland or managed fire.

I combined the three memos into one document, available HERE. (134 k Word document)

Santiago fire AAR released

Santiago fire AARThe Orange County Fire Authority has released their after action review on the October, 2007 Santiago fire, southeast of Los Angeles. The document is 138 pages long and 7.3 Mb. The fire burned 28,517 acres and destroyed 42 structures, including 14 homes, 4 commercial buildings, and 24 out buildings.

On a quick review, I did not see any earth-shaking revelations. There were some challenges with communications (i.e. 800 Mh vs. VHF systems) but have you ever seen an AAR for a large incident that did not mention problems with communications?

Some of the recommendations:

  • “…aggressively pursue adoption of Very High, High, and Moderate Fire Severity Zones” on the CalFire maps.
  • Develop a Wildland-Urban Interface Program that includes enforcement provisions, and commit the necessary resources.
  • Accelerate the purchase of new helicopters, and acquire night vision capability.
  • Establish a full-time, year-round hand crew, a 2nd seasonal handcrew, and a seasonal fly crew.
  • Increase staffing on Type 3 wildland engines to include a 4th firefighter.