Oregon IMTs and firefighters out for ice storm recovery

Western Oregon’s recent ice storm cleanup, after one of the worst winter storms in history, is now in the mop-up stage, and firefighters with the Oregon Department of Forestry have teamed up with the City of Springfield to help. For most of a week now, they’ve worked in the Thurston area of Springfield east of Eugene, clearing downed trees and sidewalks. A team of 14 started by clearing students’ paths to area schools.

“We noticed that right after the ice storm, they were using the streets to walk because they weren’t able to access the sidewalk,” ODF forester Kolten Vickers told Albert James with KEZI News in Eugene . “So we started around schools, and now we’re branching off into other parts of neighborhoods.”

Vickers has been with ODF for five years, but this is his first time cleaning up after a winter storm. “Primarily I assist with fires during the summers,” he said. “But with ODF having incident management teams — it’s all incidents. So storm recovery falls under that response.”

Local resident Patty Gori regularly walks the neighborhood with her dogs and was grateful to see the clearing work. “It was a mess,” she said. “But now, it’s amazing. They got so much cleaned up in the last couple of days, I just can’t even believe it.”

Who ya gonna call? Firefighters. Besides clearing streets and chainsaw duty, ODF sent an IMT to coordinate a unified response to the storm.

“You don’t see what’s going on behind the scenes,” said Joe Hessel, from a longtime firefighting family in eastern Oregon.  “You see firefighters digging a fireline or public works crews working on city streets. At some point, somebody’s trying to organize that chaotic potential into something that makes sense. That’s what we’re here helping the city do.” Hessel serves as a deputy incident commander for this post-storm incident, but he’s usually an incident commander with a state team. He said the storm response effort was started and led by Lane County and the City of Springfield, but on January 25 they transferred command over to the city, with the IMT from ODF still assisting.

“In large part, the city staff and departments are doing the work, just like when we were with Lane County,” Hessel said. “We’re helping at the highest level to coordinate and put a plan together to ensure that the right work is getting done at the right place at the right time.”

“We do train for incidents outside of wildfire,” he explained. “The ICS system we use on wildfires carries right across to pretty much any other incident. We’ve been to Florida and helped the State of Florida in hurricane response. We’re prepared in the event that there’s an earthquake or a tsunami here. Last year one of our teams, a short team like we have here, went to a county and helped out with a cyber attack and planning for how to manage and deal with that.”

“ODF is great, they do this type of work for a living in fire management, so they have a lot of experience in incident management,” said Ben Gibson, operations maintenance manager with the City of Springfield. “They’ve been a great resource to our emergency operations center staff in helping us move forward smoothly.”

ODF truck
Oregon Department of Forestry logo on a truck door.

Hessel said both his team and the local crews have learned a lot from each other, and he hopes the information shared between the groups can go a long way in responding to future events. “That transference of skills and knowledge to each other will benefit pretty much either entity,” he said. “And then we’ll actually develop some products we’ll leave behind — some written documents, like a debris removal plan that could be used next time, or a contact list with names on it.”

Eugene and Springfield and the surrounding area endured a record-breaking winter storm with snow and ice and rain and high winds. The storm caused widespread power outages and severely damaged at least 60 percent of the trees at the Mt. Pisgah Arboretum. The storm took out powerlines at the arboretum and necessitated a safety closure, according the a report by Oregon Public Broadcasting. Brad Van Appel, longtime director at Mt. Pisgah, said there was about an inch of ice on the trees and it was more than most of them could take.

“We have 209 acres, much of it full of trees,” he said. “I think nearly every tree took some damage.” For those wanting to help, the arboretum and its sister organization Friends of Buford Park are looking for volunteers, and they can sign up online.

Also of note, ODF is looking for a Wildland Fire Supervisor to manage the fire program down in Klamath Falls. This is a permanent benefited position. $4,918 – $7,244 monthly depending on experience. Recruitment closes January 31. 


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One thought on “Oregon IMTs and firefighters out for ice storm recovery”

  1. Good for them! The storm left a lot of downed timber, which will probably take months to clean up. And winter’s not over yet!


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