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View From The ICS Backseat

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Seems like some are grumbling about state and federal responses to big disaster events here at home. Specifically, that Federal Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Teams are not being used when a big crisis hits within our borders. It was inevitable that at some point questions would be asked about why teams are not being deployed in our own country.

Millions are spent each year keeping the 28 teams ready for deployment. Intense training and commitment must make it difficult for team members to sit on the sidelines and watch others plying their trade. Some states have their own teams, reducing the need for deploying federal teams. I’m wondering how sustainable this approach will be, especially given no one has any money.

Speaking of sustainability, I’m wondering how the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) is doing in creating a practical succession plan for national and state Type I and II incident management teams. In a perfect example of “better late than never”, NWCGroupies woke up and said “hmmm….hey, we don’t have folks in our bullpen!” Go figure, all of us Baby Boomers are bailing.

So, in typical federal fashion leadership wrote a memo, commissioning a task force that spent the last 16 months coming up with six options to keep teams functioning. You can read the options here. One appears to include limiting the tenure of those in ICS positions if certified trainees are ready to go. I think this makes a lot of sense. Regardless of the final outcome, this should be implemented. I can’t help but think this will keep the organization fresh, agile and more receptive to cultural change, within a team and in the overall NWCG structure.

Another option includes integrating Type III All-Hazard IMT’s into the mix in managing wildfires. I’m really interested in seeing how this option plays out. In 2008, my Type III All-Hazard IMT was deployed to manage a couple of wildfires in my state. The reaction of the wildfire “establishment” would have made you think we had been maiming puppies. In reality, we came in, got permission to work, took care of the troops, reassured the locals and sent everyone home safely after the job was done. Granted, the weather cooperated, making things much easier. Regardless, our team did a great job in guiding and supporting the response. But, the fallout was significant. Well established and intentioned wildfire IC’s were horrified that “urban” fire chiefs without Red Card qualifications were managing wildfire responses.

Now, I understand their consternation. Three years ago a good friend and fellow fire chief died in a California wildfire while scouting a fire before assuming control of a division. Wildfires can be seriously scary….and fast. Nothing but healthy respect from this blogger. I’m no expert when it comes to wildfire behavior, strategy and tactics. Never have been. I’m an urban guy. A downtown block burning? I’m your guy. A 14 bazillion pieces of sagebrush burning?…. Not so much. But, I have access to great wildfire folks who know how to make burning bits go way. They all not only have uncanny common sense and situational awareness , but also an ungodly respect for risk/benefit analysis. I trust them to make the key operational decisions. I’m there to make sure they have the data, resources and accountability to do it right.

Currently, as a Type III AHIMT IC I can’t assume formal control of a wildfire event. My state requires a qualified NWCG IC at the helm. I’m OK with that because I don’t want to get sued without knowing the state/feds have my back…Period…. Until they figure out the LEGITIMATE role of All Hazard (which includes wildfire) IMT’s, I’m taking a backseat.

I’m wondering if there are other AHIMT types thinking the same thing I am.

Comments - Add Yours

  • Lesley

    I’m curious what “big crisis” has happened recently where they haven’t deployed a Federal US&R team. During the response to Joplin, MOTF-1 was deployed as a State resource, and even for NLE 11, both OHTF-1 and INTF-1 were deployed with many other teams put on alert. Any recent major hurricane has had several teams deployed. The teams aren’t always deployed as Fed assets, but it seems to me that they do get called when needed.

    • http://chiefb2.wordpress.com chiefb2

      Hi Lesley, I’m not sure either. I’m not “in the USAR loop”. But, I have noted passing comments recently that seem to indicate confusion about role and process on how teams are mobilized and or used/not used. I know the Missouri Team did good work in Joplin. Guessin’ maybe not being deployed as a Federal asset may be part of the issue.

      • Lesley

        I’ve definitely heard complaints about the mobilization process, also I know some States wait for an event to be declared under the Stafford Act so that they won’t have to pay for deploying the teams, but I haven’t heard of an incident where this has actually impacted response. In theory it seems like it would be a problem, just haven’t heard of it happening in practice. Have been doing a lot of research on US&R lately, so my ears always perk up when I hear anything about it. Thanks!

About chiefb2

Retired fire chief,Type 3 AHIMT IC, PIO. Current industrial services safety professional, social media emergency management disciple (no, I'm not a "guru"). Crisis communications consultant. Dad with an open wallet.