Firefighters Practice For The Real Thing

CARSON CITY, NV - A big fire like the Caughlin or the Washoe Drive fire that followed it demands the response from a number of agencies, each with its own mission.

Coordination, communication and management of all those resources is a complex process, one that needs to be flexible enough to respond to changing conditions.

That's why representatives from 17 different agencies gathered today at Station 12 of the East Fork Fire District in Douglas County.

The scenario is a familiar one in our area. An early afternoon lightning strike, in this case in the mountain sides above Washoe Valley.

"We have lightning strike. We have thunderstorms influencing fire behavior and then the typical winds that we have and so it will blow the fire into a larger more complex situation," said Stacy Saucedo of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.

This fire, however, was fictitious. All the action was confined to the fire station.

Sand table landscapes represented the real terrain and include homes that are threatened. The incident plays out in real time as teams from various agencies work to coordinate the response.

"It's giving every level of management the opportunity to play their role in the fire," said Saucedo. "Each agency has its own mission and it's good for us all to come together and meet that mission together."

The scenario includes dealing with the media. Even a briefing for the governor. Mr. Sandoval was unavailable. I was drafted for the role.

I asked questions I imagined the governor would ask. What's the current state of the fire? How many homes are threatened? Are we doing all we can for the evacuees and what can my office do to help?

It turned out a call from the governor's office might help speed federal help. It was promised.

Everyone could be expected to respond to a real fire, fire fighters, animal rescue groups, city, county and state officials. To be effective they need to work together.

The incident was imaginary. The stress was real. The purpose, sand tables and all was serious.

"We don't want to learn these things on the fire ground if we can avoid it," says Saucedo. "So this one day in six hours we can address many different issues and it gives everyone an opportunity to learn what everyone else's mission is."

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