“When we moved in here three or four days ago, nothing was here,” said Frank Salomon, a public information officer for the Phoenix Fire Department.
Salomon and 11 of his colleagues from the Arizona capital are housed in the former 84 Lumber building on Old Forty-four Drive in Redding coordinating resources for the firefight in Northern California. They’re prepared to stay until November.
Over the past three days, they’ve been busy getting the power and water turned back on at the lumber warehouse, moving in office equipment and making sure they have plenty of phone lines and a fast Internet connection.
So far, so good, Salomon said. His team received its first out-of-state firefighting crew Friday and had them processed and assigned to a fire in 21⁄2 hours.
“Things are building up here now,” he said.
Officially, Salomon and his colleagues are a Type III incident management team operating under the direction of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
When President Bush declared California a state of emergency a week ago, it opened the door to $30 million in FEMA funding. The management team from Phoenix, trained to coordinate and lead emergency operations like this one, was then called in.
The FEMA money is for fighting fires solely on state land, meaning Salomon’ steam is assisting only the fire fighting efforts of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. As Cal Fire officials call in their requests for crews and equipment, the FEMA team assigns the resources.
“A huge part of managing these critical incidents is managing the tremendous amount of resources needed,” said Kevin Kalkbrenner, the team’s commander.
The FEMA command center is responsible for fires burning in three main regions of Northern California— Butte, Mendocino and Shasta. Fires burning in the north state’s national forests are still under the direction of U.S. Forest Service officials.
As out-of-town and out of state fire crews are called into California to assist, their first stop after arriving will be the FEMA command center,where they physically check in, get their vehicles inspected and then wait for their assignment.
“Anything that needs to be utilized to fight a fire comes through here,” Salomon said.
Salomon acknowledged there’s plenty to coordinate. With thousands of acres burning across California on local, state and federal lands and agencies as diverse as city fire departments, Cal Fire and the U.S. Forest Service all working to battle the blazes, there’s a lot to keep straight.
But it’s not as convoluted as it may appear, he said. After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 and, along with the formation of Homeland Security,the federal government created the National Incident Management System— universal training for first responders across the country on how to deal with a national-level catastrophe.
“All of us — regardless of where we come from—understand incident command,”Salomon said.
As a result, most agencies responding know what to do,how to do it and where to go for orders.
Salomon and his crew are bedding down for a long stay— he was told until November. There’s also a chance they could become a demobilization center to send crews home once the fires burnout. Either way, Salomon said they’re prepared.
“You’ve got to think big,”he said.