By Ronda Scholting
The trees and brush looked green enough, but as the fire crept closer, the vegetation exploded in flames. The crew on West Metro’s Brush 39 engine was working on the West Mims Fire, burning in swampland in Georgia, where “low” humidity registered around 50 percent. The fire behavior, vegetation and weather conditions were very different than what West Metro Fire Rescue crews typically see in Colorado, giving them hands on, invaluable experience that they couldn’t have gotten anywhere else but on deployment.
Like many fire agencies across the country, West Metro has a group of firefighters, trained in wildland fire that routinely deploys to assist on fires across the country. In 2017, West Metro crews have worked on fires in California, Oregon, Georgia, Wyoming, Montana and Colorado.
Firefighters and fire apparatus (engines, brush trucks) are listed in a national database – the Resource Ordering and Status System – known as ROSS. Crews are called up, or ordered through regional dispatch centers. The call to deploy can come at any time.
“I’m always packed and ready to go,” said Lieutenant Brendan Finnegan, a member of West Metro’s Wildland Team. “When you’re deployed, you sign on for 14 days of work on the fire and then on top of that, the travel time it takes to get there. When you get the call, they need you as fast as you can get there.”
Once at the incident, firefighters typically work up to 16-hour days on the fire line, eating in a mess hall and sleeping in tents in fire camp. Crews are required to bring all the personal items they need for two weeks – clothing, protective equipment and their own tent – in one bag, typically called a “red” bag. When crews receive their orders, they know they’re headed to a fire, but that is sometimes all they know.
“You have to be up to the challenge to handle the assignment you’re given and the situation your crew might find itself in,” said Captain Todd Heinl, one of the West Metro firefighters who deployed to the West Mims Fire. “On some incidents, you’re not only dealing with the fire, but other things – like the alligators we saw on the West Mims Fire.”
The opportunity to deploy gives firefighters a wider range of experience that they can draw on once they get home.
“No matter where they go, crews learn lessons about fire behavior, firefighting methods or incident strategy,” said Heinl. “We can use that to fight fires in our district.”
Ronda Scholting is West Metro Fire Rescue’s Communications/Media Relations Specialist.