Federal partners want more local personnel to help manage wildfires | SteamboatToday.com

Federal partners want more local personnel to help manage wildfires

Routt County emergency manager wants to form local incident management team

The smoke plume from the Muddy Slide Fire was visible at the command center for the fire just south of Stagecoach in the early hours of the fire last summer. At this point, officials believed they could have managed the fire with a local team, but personnel weren’t available.
Dylan Anderson/Steamboat Pilot & Today

As the Muddy Slide Fire grew in late June last summer, Routt County emergency manager Mo DeMorat said officials believed a team of regional personnel could have effectively managed the blaze.

That team, called a Type 3 Incident Management Team, draws on local people — generally government employees — that have received additional emergency management training and would help on the back end of managing a fire, ensuring firefighters on the front lines have resources they need.

“Kevin Thompson (the first incident commander on the Muddy Slide Fire) was pretty comfortable it could have been effectively managed by a Type 3 team, if we had the resources,” DeMorat said.

But there were not enough of these local people to step up to serve on the Type 3 team, so DeMorat said they needed to escalate to a Type 2 Incident Management Team, a national level squad of people standing by to be deployed to a fire.

“That Type 2 team burn rate would be about $350,000 a day,” DeMorat said.

An airtanker drops a slurry on the Muddy Slide Fire last summer as crews continued to battle the blaze just east of Yampa with air power. To manage a large fire, it can require numerous personnel behind the scene.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

On Tuesday, March 15, DeMorat told a joint meeting of Steamboat Springs and Routt County leaders that federal partners want local jurisdictions to contribute more for these Type 3 teams.

To get ready for that, DeMorat suggested forming a local Type 4 team — smaller than a Type 3 team, but one that could quickly be scaled up. This team would deal with a myriad of local emergencies, including wildfires, gas leaks, severe winter storms and flooding.

DeMorat said that, since 2017, this team would have been deployed about twice a year, and he estimated that both training and responding to emergencies would take up about 84 hours of each team member’s time. What he is looking for is commitment.

Leaders expressed support for forming a Type 4 team, and Routt County county manager Jay Harrington said the county was working out some sort of incentive program to entice city and county employees to participate. The more people that join, the less commitment any one of them has to give, DeMorat said.

“What we’ve learned over the last several years is it’s not if these emergencies are going to happen, it’s when,” said commissioner Tim Corrigan. “Having been to the headquarters of a Type 1 team and a Type 2 team, you begin to appreciate just how important it is to be highly organized.”

DeMorat insisted that he isn’t looking to make firefighters out of rank-and-file government staff. Having this team can help the county respond better to emergencies and save money in the process.

The Muddy Slide Fire ended up costing around $10 million to fight last summer, DeMorat said. Most of that was on national forest land, but 3.5% of it did make it on to private property.

Typically, the county and local fire districts would be on the hook for the roughly $350,000 in expenses to fight fire on private land, a number that far exceeds the $100,000 the county has currently identified to respond to an emergency like a fire.

But because of resources provided locally to the fire, DeMorat said federal partners considered that an in-kind contribution, and didn’t request reimbursement.

“When an emergency happens, I’m never short of people saying, ‘What can we do to help?’” DeMorat said. “But at that time, it’s kind of late.”

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