Region provides support for COVID-19 pandemic

Multiple people standing in a parking lot in support of vaccination efforts.When COVID became a national crisis over a year ago, everyone was affected by it, including the Forest Service and fire organization. It became apparent as vaccinations became available that everyone in the United States might need access to the vaccine within a short timeframe. The logistics necessary to implement this mission are complex but something fire personnel do well.

On January 21, 2021, the White House released the Biden administration's National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness. The strategy called for a whole-of-government response to end the pandemic.  Pictured below is, Katrina Mohr, Payette National Forest, administering a vaccination.Employee giving citizen a shot

The USDA Forest Service is the lead agency responsible for coordinating Emergency Support Function (ESF) #4, which is primarily fire suppression with core capabilities in planning, operational coordination, and public information for all-hazard response during major disasters.

Julie Campbell, ESF #4 coordinator for the Intermountain Region, started coordinating the requests for Forest Service support on January 12, 2021.

“I started my deployment providing Washington with a Type 1 Incident Management Team, and then a few weeks later ordered another team for Idaho. Both IMTs were tasked to create strategic plans for vaccination rollout for the health districts and states,” said Campbell. “We then started ordering Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) across the country by mid-February, and within our region for Nevada about six weeks ago. We are currently supporting Las Vegas, Reno, and counties around Carson City.”

Two women prepare syringes for vaccination efforts.“ESF #4 responded to the initial stages of the pandemic by providing incident management personnel to various federal, state, and local Emergency Operations Centers to assist those organizations with strategic and operational planning related to the response to the COVID-19 emergency. Later in the pandemic, ESF #4 provided incident management personnel to assist Federal, State, and local agencies with vaccination distribution planning and vaccination site management. ESF #4 also provided Emergency Medical Service personnel to serve as vaccinators, screeners, and medical observers at federally supported vaccination centers,” stated Gordy Sachs, chief, all hazard & international fire support branch, national ESF#4 coordinator.

A man in a black shirt gives COVID-19 vaccine to another person.Forest Service staff from the Intermountain Region, through ESF #4, began supporting FEMA and several states by providing personnel, equipment, and incident management teams to support established vaccination locations. This is the largest mobilization of USDA Forest Service personnel for a non-fire incident since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

On an average day, EMTs assist with the paperwork, talk to the clients, answer their concerns or questions, and then administer the shot. Points of Dispensing (PODs) can vary in size from 5 to over a 100 EMTs, so providing management oversite aided in the success of our mission. Terry Holsclaw, logistics section chief on the Fishlake National Forest, supported a POD in Buffalo, NY. He stated, “The coordination from FEMA was amazing and contributed to our success. Thanks for the good assignment and showing me that FEMA can do the right things the right way.”

David Blair, hotshot captain on the Dixie National Forest, who provided management oversight, said his group has vaccinated almost 10,000 residents and visitors of Clark County, Nevada.

“Their daily dedication and joy in their work cannot be expressed enough. Through their work ethic and willingness to adapt, these EMTs quickly became the most dependable and consistent group of vaccinators in the Southern Nevada Health District,” said Blair. “After many conversations throughout this assignment, all have said this is some of the most rewarding work they have ever done, and it is an honor to take part in this historic event to vaccinate the United States.”

To date, more than 200 Forest Service employees from the Intermountain Region and over a 1,000 Forest Service and Department of Interior employees from across the nation have been assigned to ESF #4 missions. Plans are underway to transition employees back to their home units in preparation for wildfire activity during the 2021 fire season.People with masks posing for picture


Photo #1  USDA Forest Service employees Josh Quinn and Connie Weeks support vaccination efforts at the drive-through vaccination clinic at the Reno-Sparks Livestock Events Center. Photo by USDA Forest Service employee Brian Burbridge.

Photo #2  Katrina Mohr, Payette National Forest, administers a vaccination.

Photo #3  USDA Forest Service employees Shelby Carter and Connie Weeks support vaccination efforts at the drive-through vaccination clinic at the Reno-Sparks Livestock Events Center. Photo by USDA Forest Service employee Brian Burbridge.

Photo #4  Andrew Gilsdorf, a Teton Interagency Helitack crewmember from the Bridger-Teton National Forest, administers a vaccination in Clark County, Nevada. Photo by USDA Forest Service.

Photo #5  Pictured from left to right, Sara Helmrick (NPS, Canyon Lands), Steven Rodriguez (Salmon‐Challis NF, Salmon Rappelers), Katrina Mohr (Payette NF, McCall Engine Module), Andrew Gilsdorf (Bridger‐Teton, Teton Helitack), John Pegg, Stefan Latimer, Paxton Parazoo, Lani Atkinson (all Adventure Medics), Dustin Blair (Dixie NF, Cedar City Hotshots).