Profile of a “legal pyro”

The High Country News has an article about Jeanne Pincha-Tulley, the forest Fire Management Officer on the Tahoe National Forest in California. Ms. Pincha-Tulley has achieved what no other person of her gender has… the qualification of Type 1 Incident Commander.

The article, in which she calls herself a “legal pyro”, is very worth reading, but here are a couple of excerpts:

Jeanne Pincha-Tulley. Photo: Kari Greer
Jeanne Pincha-Tulley. Photo: Kari Greer

In late August 2007, lightning ignited the Castle Rock Fire in Idaho’s Sawtooth National Forest. More than 10,000 acres had been blackened by the time Pincha-Tulley’s team was summoned. Computer models showed the winds from an approaching cold front posed “a 99-percent chance the town of Ketchum would burn down.”
Pincha-Tulley immediately called a town meeting. Hundreds of frightened residents — “inching toward panic due to the proximity of the flames and the dearth of information,” according to the Idaho Mountain Express — crowded into Ketchum’s Hemingway Elementary School gym to hear the new fire boss explain the aggressive line-building and burnout tactics she planned along the ridge of Mount Baldy.

“We’re going to put a dozer line down your favorite trail,” she warned them. “We’re going to do strafing runs over your house. We’re going to land helicopters in your backyard. We’re going to burn the views you love, turn them black. …”

Instead of reacting in horror, they applauded. Pincha-Tulley’s straightforward manner and clear explanation inspired confidence. “In all of our careers,” District Ranger Kurt Nelson later declared, “we’ve never seen anything like this, where a community, faced with fire breathing right down on (it), had the ability to pull together and actually trust the Forest Service.”

That faith was rewarded. Some 1,400 residents were evacuated and 48,000 acres ultimately charred, but not a single home burned and no one was injured.

[…]

Combating fires along the West’s wildland urban interface “is really an art form in terms of applying the science,” she says. “You have to use your intuition. A large part of what you do also comes from knowing who you’re working with … knowing your team, knowing each others’ strengths and weaknesses. We usually spend five or six years at a time together, and the team becomes your second family.

I have a great group of renegades that I adore,” she continues. “We’re known for playing jokes on people … and being serious when we need to be serious … throwing just enough levity in so that people can stop … breathe. We have a grand time!”

Turning earnest, she adds, “Our mission is to safely do the impossible in very short order. And sometimes,” she cracks before bursting again into laughter, “we actually can do it!”

We have written about Ms. Pincha-Tulley before.

Thanks Dick

Update on US firefighters in Australia

The firefighters from the United States that we told you about on January 11 that are assisting the Australians arrived down under on January 15. Their first assignment was to participate in two days of orientation training. The deployment follows an initial visit in December by an international team which spent two weeks developing an action plan. Firefighters from Canada are also assisting the Australians.

Allen Johnson and Shane del Grosso in Australia. Photo: Andrew Kelly
Allen Johnson and Shane del Grosso in Australia. Photo: Andrew Kelly

An Australian newspaper, The Courier, has an article about the deployment, and interestingly, to me anyway, it has a photo of two of the U.S. firefighters, both of whom I know.

Allen Johnson and I “grew up” on the Cleveland National Forest in southern California, but now he is a district Fire Management Officer on the Stanislaus National Forest in central California. Shane del Grosso works for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is the Zone Fire Management Officer for refuges in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

Two American forest fire experts are in Ballarat for a month to share their knowledge and boost local firefighting resources.

Shane Del Grosso and Allen Johnson are part of team of 15 forest firefighters from the United States and Canada who arrived in Australia last week and have been deployed across Victoria. The two men have more than 50 years of firefighting experience between them.

Mr Johnson, a District Fire Management Officer from California, said the American and Australian approach to firefighting was similar.

“The fuel type is different, but fire behaviour is basically the same,” he said.

Both Mr Johnson and Mr Del Grosso, a fire behaviour analyst from South Dakota, are regularly deployed to disaster zones across the US in the event of floods, hurricanes and fires.

Mr De Grosso said historically firefighting had come down to neighbours helping neighbours.

“Now its countries helping countries,” he said.

“We can learn from each other and make it very beneficial for both.”

The pair will work on special projects during their time in Ballarat and help out if there’s a bushfire.

Premier John Brumby last week said the group of international firefighters were an important addition to Victoria’s largest ever firefighting effort.

“The Canadians and American experts bring with them a vast knowledge of firefighting and will continue what is an ongoing information exchange on specialist firefighting with our local forces this season,” he said.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was on her way to attend a conference in Australia and planned to visit with the U.S. firefighters while she was in the country, but she returned to the U.S. after the Haiti earthquake since the United States Agency for International Development, under her jurisdiction in the State Department, has the lead role in managing the U.S. assistance to Haiti following the earthquake.

In February of 2009, 60 U.S. firefighters traveled to Australia to assist with fires; we had an article with photos of some of those firefighters HERE and HERE. And the assistance goes both ways, with about 44 firefighters from Australia and New Zealand coming to the U.S. in July of 2009.

Thanks Dick and Roberta

Prescribed burning in Monmouth Battlefield State Park

I ran across some interesting videos of crews doing some prescribed burning in Monmouth Battlefield State Park in New Jersey. Apparently they have a pretty hot prescription for wind speed, and like some other firefighters in the East and South, ride on the back of fire trucks while applying water. All three videos were uploaded to YouTube on January 16, 2009.

(no longer available)

The description for all three videos is the same:

B10 crews of the NJ Forest Fire Service doing prescribed burning at Monmouth Battlefield State Park, Manalapan, NJ

10 U.S. search and rescue teams assisting with Haiti earthquake

At least 10 Urban Search and Rescue Task Forces in the United States have been activated to assist the victims of the earthquake in Haiti. Here is an update from the web site of California Task Force 5, which is organized by the Orange County Fire Authority.
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1-14-2010
CATF5 Haiti Update 1/14, 8:15pm

USAR CATF5 worked throughout the day today at March Air Reserve Base. The Task Force focused on some logistical challenges throughout the afternoon. CATF5 maintains a state of operational readiness and is prepared to respond.

The Task Force is currently staged while waiting for transportation to Haiti. Once that transportation becomes available, the Task Force will load it’s cache and vehicles while looking forward to assisting those in need.

CATF5 plans to rest this evening while remaining optimistic that their transportation will soon arrive.

1-14-2010
Haiti Update for Thursday January 14, 2010 (Day #1)

Last night around 8:30, The California Task Force 5 Urban Search and Rescue team was activated to assist with the ongoing rescue efforts in the wake of the devastating 7.0 earthquake in Haiti. CATF-5 will join nine other US&R Task Forces in Haiti. The other teams deployed to this incident are: Virginia TF-1 (Fairfax), Virginia TF-2 (Virginia Beach), California TF-2 (LA County), California TF-7 (Sacramento), Florida TF-1 (Miami-Dade), Florida TF-2 (Miami), New York TF-1, Ohio TF-1, and Texas TF-1. This is an unprecedented international deployment of resources, in that many of the teams listed above are FEMA teams typically limited to incidents within the United States.

CA TF-5 is a Type 1 team consisting of 75 members from OCFA, Anaheim Fire, Orange City Fire, Santa Ana Fire, Montebello Fire, and Chino Valley Fire Protection District. The team is comprised of highly trained and skilled responders from a variety of disciplines.

At this time, CA TF-5 is at March Air Force Base awaiting military transport to Haiti. As can be expected, there is a backlog of aircraft on the ground at the available landing strips in Haiti.

As I’m sure youuve seen on the news, this is a huge disaster with reports of tens of thousands killed, and millions left homeless. The task forces that have landed and begun rescue work have already reported several live rescues. Please keep our responders from CA TF5, the other task forces, the many volunteers, and the people of Haiti in your thoughts and prayers during these challenging times.

Keith Richter
Fire Chief
Orange County Fire Authority

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Photos of the Orange County task force being deployed taken by the Orange County Register are HERE.

Air Force photos of task forces and equipment being deployed are HERE.

Composition of an Urban Search and Rescue Task Force

When the two Urban Search and Rescue Task forces from Los Angeles County Fire Department and Fairfax County, Virginia were dispatched to aid the victims of the Haiti earthquake, I did not know much about how they were organized. But after some research, mostly at the FEMA web site, I found out more about them.

Currently, there are 28 task forces across the country. They are sponsored by FEMA and are staffed and equipped to respond to any type of emergency incident where search and rescue is required. Each task force is equipped with the necessary tools and equipment and is supposed to be able to begin traveling within 6 hours.

The locations of the 25 Urban Search & Rescue Task Forces that existed in 1996.
The locations of the 25 Urban Search & Rescue Task Forces that existed in 1996.

FEMA’s standard operating procedure calls for them to send the three closest task forces, and more if necessary. As far we we can tell, they did not follow this procedure for the Haiti earthquake, sending only two task forces, as of January 14 anyway, that were not the closest.

(UPDATE @ 7:38 p.m. Jan. 14; we found out that the Miami Urban Search and Rescue Task Force, South Florida Task Force 2, departed just after noon today, headed toward Haiti.)

Each task force has two 31-person teams, four canines, and a comprehensive equipment cache. The idea is that the 31-person teams would rotate, each working for about 12 hours a day. They are supposed to be self-sufficient for up to 72 hours, and should be able to stay on the incident for 10 days.

FEMA claims that the Task forces operate within the Incident Command System, but they also say that the personnel on the teams work in one of six areas:

1. Management

Composition:          Task Force Leader, Safety Officer, Planning, Search Manager, Rescue Manager, Logistics, Medical Manager

Functions:                 Provides overall management and coordination of task force operations.

2. Search

Composition:            Canine Specialists, Search Canines, Technical Search Specialists

Functions:                  Utilizes canines and technical/electronic search to locate trapped victims.

3. Rescue

Composition:            Rescue Specialists organized into four squads with leader and five specialists, and includes Heavy Rigging Specialists.

Functions:                 Performs extrication of trapped victims. Skilled in cutting, shoring, lifting, and breaching steel and reinforced concrete.

4. Medical

Composition:            Physicians and Medical Specialists at the paramedic or equivalent level.

Functions:                 Provides pre-hospital and emergency care for task force members and crush syndrome/confined space medicine for rescued victims.

5. Planning

Composition:            Structural Engineers, Hazardous Materials Specialists, Technical Information Specialists.

Functions:                 Provides support to the overall search and rescue mission to include: planning, hazards evaluation, structural integrity assessments, and technical documentation.

6. Logistics

Composition:            Logisticians, Communications Specialists, and Support Specialists.

Functions:                 Provides support to the overall search and rescue mission to include: logistical, communications, mobilization and demobilization, and transportation.