A week in fire – a series of articles

W. Scott Olsen, a professor of English at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, is writing a series of articles on “the war on wildfires out west, meeting shot-callers and looking at the operation from the inside”.

The articles are very well-written. If you are involved in fire, you will appreciate the fresh point of view of an outsider. If not, you can learn a lot about how wildfires are fought and how the resources are managed by the “shot-callers”. Here are links to the articles that Mr. Olsen has written so far in this series.

Below is an excerpt from the “Monday” article in which he is describing a meeting of the National MultiAgency Coordination group (NMAC) at NIFC in Boise:

…After the weather, the talk turns to resources. The VLAT—Very Large Air Tanker, a DC-10—has been moved to California. The Rocky Mountain area wants two Heavy Tankers in addition to the MAFFS—Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System, Air Force C-130s—deployed yesterday. Wamack goes around the table and asks what issues others may want discussed and there are very few. Then he suggests they move the national preparedness level from PL4 to PL3. This is not a small issue in that it will change how the entire nation handles its firefighting resources, and it is a step toward a more relaxed readiness. But the numbers from the field do not match the criteria for PL4. No one disagrees. It’s not difficult to move back to PL4 or even PL5. But that’s not where we are.

Without ceremony, the meeting ends and everyone goes back to their tasks. Nearly everyone has a telephone on their desk and a cell phone in their pocket, and both of them ring. This is the whole nation’s firefighting center. I keep thinking the whole thing should lapse into organizational chaos. All it would take is one person with a real turf-issue. But without exception, every person has front line fire experience. Every person has personal history and gut-deep understanding of what’s going on in the field. The federal agencies do not compete here. It’s not a world where the question is “What do you want from me?” It’s a world where the question is “What can I bring to the table?”


Thanks go out to Dick

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

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