SALEM — Many Oregonians have become acutely aware of the potential impacts of wildfire following the past several summers. Warming and drying trends, and community growth into the wildland-urban interface, have impacted the way fire behaves, as well as the way they are fought. Nationally and in Oregon, incident management teams (IMTs) utilize the Incident Command System (ICS) to manage large-scale incidents.
Oregon has access to these interagency teams, managed by federal agencies, as well as access to six state teams. Three of Oregon’s teams are managed and staffed by the Oregon Department of Forestry, responding primarily to fires on or threatening lands the agency protects.
The remaining three teams— Red, Blue, and Green — are administered by the Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal (OSFM) through unique legislation known as the Conflagration Act. When invoked by the governor, the act gives OSFM the ability to mobilize any structural firefighting resources in the state to respond to an incident threatening lives or property.
“The OSFM’s IMTs are capable of responding to any incident and are trained to meet a blend of wildland and all-hazard requirements,” said Portland Fire & Rescue Bureau Division Chief Tom Williams, who serves as the deputy incident commander for the Green Team, a position he’s held for the past two fire seasons. “These members of the Oregon fire service have their home agency’s support to mobilize at a moment’s notice to provide much needed oversight and support to major operations.”
How Incident Management Teams Mobilize
Through plans administered by OSFM, the state is divided into districts, mostly along county lines. Each district has one chief who serves as the point of contact for OSFM and does the work to prepare the agencies in their district to respond quickly when requested.
These chiefs are also responsible for requesting that the act be invoked when their local agencies recognize an incident is beyond their capabilities. The mobilized firefighting resources from around the state are managed by OSFM’s IMTs, who are staffed by personnel from local structural fire agencies.
During 2018, Williams mobilized three of the 11 declared conflagrations and one 14-day mission to support recovery in Gulf County, Florida. Williams’ team consisted of seven Oregon fire service professionals specializing in command, planning, GIS, logistics, communications, and finance.
“The Gulf County response was a unique challenge; not only because it was across the country where we were leading resources we were unfamiliar with, but also because the region’s entire infrastructure had been devastated. At first, the team was nervous, but we did a lot of good work and left them in a better place. It was an amazing, humbling experience,” he says. “The hurricane response really demonstrated the effectiveness of the ICS process and how it can bring organization to chaos and bring a team together.”
The past few years have seen a marked increase in activity for OSFM’s teams. As of early August, the 2019 season has been a welcome reprieve for not only the teams, but for all Oregonians. As always, the structural fire service and the teams that support them remain at the ready.