Above: Northern Rockies Fire Cache at Missoula. USFS photo.
(Originally published at 5:20 p.m. MDT August 29, 2018)
From adapters for everything imaginable to wrenches in all sizes – the Northern Rockies Fire Cache is a wildland firefighting megastore. When firefighters need equipment, tables, clothing, foot powder, sleeping bags, radios, or even medical supplies they call on the Cache to meet their needs.
Located in Missoula, Montana, the Northern Rockies Cache serves a wide range of federal, state, local and tribal government agencies within the Northern Rockies Geographical Area, an area of roughly 235,654 square miles.
The Northern Rockies Cache is capable of immediately supplying up to 5,000 firefighters and more than 30 major wildland fires. Support is sustained with a steady flow of replacement supplies from vendors and other Caches.
The Cache is moving toward becoming a minimal waste facility. Every piece of equipment returned to the Cache from a fire is assessed to see if it can be fixed, repaired, or refurbished. If it can, it is cleaned and repaired in-house saving considerable taxpayer dollars. If the equipment is beyond repair it gets recycled if possible. Last year alone the Cache recycled over 22,000 pounds of steel and almost 11,000 pounds of batteries.
Following the 2017 wildland fire season, the Cache inspected, laundered, and repaired over 40,000 pieces of Nomex clothing and over 9,000 sleeping bags. Working through this amount of laundry involves a lot of people – clothes and sleeping bags are inspected when they return from the fireline, sent to local businesses to be laundered, separated by size and condition, and those items needing a little TLC are set aside to be worked on during the winter months. Smokejumpers, known for their elite firefighting skills are also known for their sewing abilities and are called on during the winter to repair Nomex clothing so it can be used again the next season.
How does it work? When a fire burns for a number of days it quickly surpasses the local unit’s ability to provide needed supplies and provisions. Fire managers will place orders for the things they need to the Cache which quickly assembles and ships the supplies. When the fire no longer needs the supplies they return them to the Cache to be cleaned, refurbished and restocked. This includes the miles of hose that has to be pressure tested, cleaned to remove any aquatic hitchhikers (aquatic invasive species), dried, and finally rolled and stacked. Following the 2017 fire season over 1,200 miles of hose (enough hose to reach from Missoula to Long Beach, CA) went through this process.
A few Cache figures from the 2017 fire season: 1,300 pumps cleaned and refurbished (the last pump was put back on the shelf ready for the 2018 fire season in June – a year after the 2017 fire season began); almost 400 chainsaws, over 8,200 fire tools, almost 3 million pairs of earplugs, almost 300 pounds of foot powder, over 1.2 million AA batteries; and 64,420 MREs (meals ready to eat) which is enough to feed one person, three meals a day for 58.8 years.
Although its primary focus is to support fire suppression activities in northern Idaho, Montana, and North Dakota (referred to as the Northern Rockies Geographical Area), the Northern Rockies Cache may also lend support to any type of emergency incident in every part of the country. Beginning in the late 1990s, this helping hand and support was extended to include Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico.
This Cache’s staffing operation consists of 15 people year round and up to 50 during the summer. This highly skilled workforce has met the needs of firefighters across the nation for the last 3 years with no serious accidents.