Wildland firefighters are battling logistics as well as the fires

“Gentlemen, the officer who doesn’t know his communications and supply as well as his tactics is totally useless.”
– Gen. George S. Patton, USA.

technician sets up a portable radio repeater
A technician sets up a portable radio repeater on the Sprague Fire in Glacier National Park in Montana, September 16, 2017. NIFC photo.

Warnings sent out this week by the National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group at the National Interagency Fire Center advised wildland firefighters across the Western United States that logistics problems are developing in several areas, including supplying firefighters with communications, food, and water.


The National MAC Group said the National Interagency Incident Communication Division is now critically low on a majority of radio communications equipment. The only equipment specifically mentioned was portable radio repeaters, which retransmit radio conversations among fire personnel to enable wider coverage, rather than limiting it to just line-of-sight. Communications on any emergency incident is critical, but especially on wildland fires where terrain and distance limit the use of radios. Repeaters, enough of them in the right locations, can aid situational awareness, command, and control.

Radios for firefighters
Radios for firefighters at the Rough Fire – Sequoia Kings Canyon NP in California 9-26-2015. NIFC photo.

A variety of factors have contributed to the logistics challenges for providing communications equipment, including fire size, spatial separation of incident facilities, topography, transportation corridors, initial attack responsibilities, and an increased requirement for reliable coverage.

A memo sent by the MAC Group recognizes how inadequate communications will force personnel to conduct a risk assessment and mitigate the situation by choosing alternative strategies or tactics and assigning human repeaters.

Water and food

The MAC Group reported that during the first three days on a fire personnel should not count on being supplied with food or water. Yes, water.

“Due to the current national fire situation including ongoing high demand for caterers, shower units, and bottled water etc., [Incident Management Team] members and fire suppression resources should travel and arrive at the incident self-sufficient for three days, including food and water,” the August 9 memo from the MAC Group warned.

Since COVID-19, many fireline personnel, especially hand crews, have been traveling with food and meal preparation equipment to be self-sufficient for even longer. But that was primarily to avoid crowded fire camps and the risk of infection.

"Amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics."
- Gen. Robert H. Barrow, USMC (Commandant of the Marine Corps) noted in 1980.
Supplies, Cougar Rick Complex fire
Members of Nez Perce Tribe Camp Crew 1 assigned to Great Basin Team 3’s Supply Unit at Headquarters, Idaho, load a truck with hoses, tools, ice, and water for firefighters working at a spike camp on the Cougar Rock Complex, July 29, 2021. Photo by Geoff Liesik, public information officer.