Dla assists with nationwide wildland fire fighting, US


 
11 August 2017

published by http://www.fireandrescue.co


USA - The US Defence Logistics Agency (DLA) is supporting fire fighting efforts by providing equipment ranging from fire hoses and protective clothing to tools and batteries to the Department of Agriculture’s Wildland Fire Protection Programme. As of early July 2017, 46 large wildfires across the US have burned more than 303 500 hectares of land, destroyed billions of dollars’ worth of property, taken scores of lives and injured countless people. Fighting these fires requires thousands of personnel from multiple federal, state and local agencies. And they often need critical equipment delivered in short order to remote locations. This is a tall order for many agencies and jurisdictions. Fortunately, the DLA has been part of the fight since 2014, working closely with the US Forest Service, state governments and local fire departments to get the fire fighters and their support staff the equipment they need. DLA does this by supporting the forest service’s nationwide National Interagency Support Cache system. Each regional support cache stockpiles items like gloves, goggles, fire-resistant clothing, canteens, hardhats, hand tools, chainsaws, radio kits and other critical equipment to meet short-term needs. This is a particularly important partnership from June to November each year, during the wildfire season.

“Right now is peak fire season,” said Jon Hill, DLA customer account manager and the liaison officer to the US Forest Service. He said the number and intensity of fires can vary greatly based on the summer heat, the amount of rainfall and the presence of potential fuel for wildfires such as fallen leaves or pine needles and dead branches. Hill has been with the programme since its inception. “We took over management of the Forest Service programme through a logistical reassignment from General Services Administration in May 2014,” he said. The General Services Administration had managed the programme for 50 years.

When the programme transferred, there were 296 items being managed. The programme has grown and now includes 344 fire fighting items for the Forest Service, Hill said. The items are sourced through DLA Troop Support, DLA Aviation and DLA Land and Maritime, assisted by personnel in DLA distribution centres, primarily the one in San Joaquin, California.

Steve Dubernas is the newly appointed chief of the DLA Whole of Government Support Division. He’s already visited the National Interagency Fire Centre (NIFC) headquarters in Boise, Idaho, to get a first-hand understanding and coordinate with his counterparts. “A month into the position as division chief, you begin to realise quickly you’re supporting a customer who is literally saving lives on a daily basis,” he said. “This is a mission the DLA needs to support as a critical interagency partner.”

Dubernas was struck by the challenge inherent in the smoke jumpers’ mission. “Fire fighters actually jump into areas threatened by fires from aerial platforms to cut fuel away to try to stop the fire from burning over homes and doing more damage,” he observed. The NIFC supports state and local fire fighters who work to protect infrastructures all over the country. “We work very closely with them to maintain their critical reorder point levels on fire equipment,” Dubernas said.

Hill added, “We participate in a daily Forest Service call with the National Interagency Support Caches and I have several representatives in the primary-level field activities whose critical-item listings we look at. There are 25 to 30 high priority, recurring items and we monitor those items. And as we see stock levels getting low, we initiate a replenishment.”

The DLA provides the materials through a system of 10 interagency support caches, which are the Forest Service equivalent of the DLA’s distribution centres, Hill said. At the end of each year, The DLA and the Forest Service establish how much inventory to maintain for the coming year at DLA Distribution San Joaquin, based on stock levels from the previous year’s use data.

Then throughout the year, the DLA monitors and responds to support to Forest Service preparedness levels, on a one-to-five scale, from least to most prepared. The level is influenced by the number of fires in a particular region, the number of fire suppression crews deployed to manage those fires and the severity of the fire itself. “Right now, we are at level four nationally,” Hill said.

As regional fires continue to spread, they have a distinct impact on the national preparedness level. And as they intensify, they require different levels of management and different suppression methods, Hill explained. “In the most severe fires, evacuations are taking place, there’s structural damage and homes are being threatened,” he said.

The fire type also determines the types of incident management teams that will deploy to help. Teams are rated as one, two or three, based on the level of help they’ll provide and how long they plan to deploy. “For initial fires, a type three team deploys and stays on site for about 12 hours,” Hill said. “They make assessments, coordinate fire and containment efforts and then turn operations over to the next level up, beyond that 12- to 16-hour mark.”

The type two team has more training and more access to resources than the type three team. The type one team has the highest level of expertise, Hill said. “They are very well trained with movement of onsite materials, personnel, equipment to containment areas and fire suppression efforts,” he said. “And that team will generally consist of 27 personnel, with the ability to increase by 15 more.”

Two Southern California fires that made national news recently were the Whittier and Detwiler fires. On 10 July 2017, the Detwiler fire covered 2,500 acres. But by that Thursday, it had reached 1 010 hectares, Hill said. “I have access to Forest Service websites and monitor these different type fires,” he said. “But sometimes, the data changes from morning to evening, from day to day, from hour to hour. It’s quite comprehensive and widespread in terms of how those fires change.”

Because Hill keeps such a close watch on the changing data, he’s constantly engaged and ready to help DLA mobilise needed materials. “I get a daily update that is an actual fire map and I can see how many critical fires are on there,” he said. “I will generally reach out to the cache managers in the area where we’re seeing a large spread of fires in a very short period and we will intervene to help expedite materials going to them as needed.”

Hill said when preparedness levels reach four and five, he sometimes must travel to the area to help on site. “That involves the full array of looking at materials, working with our distribution centres and being involved with the transportation aspects,” he said.

The Whittier fire was at its greatest severity only a short time, as fire fighters contained 97 percent of the fire within 48 hours. In the meantime, the Detwiler fire spread rapidly. “The Detwiler fire grew by 900 percent overnight. It went from 1 010 hectares to 18 200 hectares in 24 hours,” Hill said. That’s when the Forest Service began calling in additional resources and suppression management teams. “The Forest Service will then go in to action going through several iterations of fire crews until they get the right containment level,” he said.

Although 8 000 people in and around the Detwiler fire were evacuated, there was no loss of life and reported fire-related injuries were minor. “The focus continuously shifts,” Hill said. “So while we’re having all these very severe fires in southern California, we’re also having a large number of fires in the northern Rockies.”

While not all fires are type one; there are enough type two fires to warrant the presence more crews and equipment. When a fire has been suppressed, the resources are brought back into the interagency support system, cleaned up and dispersed to the next most severe fire. Once a fire is contained, the Forest Service and DLA will continue to monitor it in case it jumps outside the containment area. And when full containment is achieved, the crew can be demobilised.

“It’s a matter of prioritising their resources in the right way to support or suppress the most critical fires across the US,” Hill said. “We are always going to face challenges, merely because fires have spread so quickly that resources we had projected [to last] through a fire season are exhausting rapidly.”

Dubernas agreed there’s room for improvement in DLA support, specifically by honing the critical-items list and increasing inventory levels when necessary. “That’s something we’re going to work on with the Forest Service, looking at demand levels, reorder points and some things that DLA can do to support the mission seamlessly,” Dubernas said. “We don’t want to go into an emergency contingency response scenario with the Forest Service, we want to have the stock levels that they can use to support these fires from June to November.” That requires management at all levels; and while Hill manages the programme at the federal level, Tracy Shepherd manages the state and local level.

“Tracy works with those state and local fire departments that do not always gain the credit our federal fire fighters get,” Dubernas said. “They play a very vital role in the fire suppression teams and what happens within their individual states and Tracy champions those efforts.”

Both Dubernas and Hill touted the importance of the programme and its growing mission, a priority for the new DLA director. Dubernas noted the DLA’s support to wildland fire fighting is just one way the agency partners with its sister federal agencies to help with disaster relief across the nation. “Other agencies that have heard of us have not always known what our capability was,” Hill said. “We’re proud of what we’ve done to this point and for the programme being seen for what it truly is.”