Successful Initial Attack: A Dispatcher’s Perspective

Two woman in dispatchOn the afternoon of July 30, the Umpqua National Forest began to receive multiple lightning strikes, initiating a prompt response from the Roseburg Interagency Communication Center (OR-RIC) or “dispatch”. Local firefighting resources were mobilized quickly as fire reports were received. Aerial and ground resources provided the dispatch center with needed intelligence, including fire locations, sizes, activity level, values threatened, and additional resources needed. This precise information, along with collaborative action by fire managers, aided dispatch to formulate a rapid response necessary to combat the fires proactively.

During the first operational period, everyone stayed flexible and adapted to the overwhelming amount of information flowing into the center. This included numerous smoke reports, which can quickly overrun a center with information and create confusion. The dispatch staff consistently assessed and prioritized the information prior to sending resources. To facilitate this, dispatch personnel shared the various dispatch functions of initial attack and expanded dispatch to support the resources on the ground. Our dispatch office, and the fire resources they support, are very fortunate to have extremely competent dispatchers with a high level of skills who can multi-task while simultaneously tracking the critical details of emerging incidents.

The amount of coordination between the dispatch center, field resources and duty officers can be immense. This requires a significant amount of teamwork to ensure information is understood and relayed appropriately. The fire management organization successfully supported initial attack operations on the majority of fires reported. For the few fires that exceeded initial attack capacity, it was determined that due to the complexity of the situation, an Incident Management Team (IMT) was needed to bolster the efforts on the ground and in the air. Dispatch was the conduit for placing this request and the additional support that is necessary to assist any IMT during the mobilization process. To assist with this task, an expanded dispatch operation was set up, including ground support and an Incident Buying Team.

The collaboration and extensive efforts of all involved helped keep all but 2 of the 29 fire starts over the course of six days to less than one acre. Dispatch staff continued to perform at a very high level with a medical assist when a firefighter experienced a shin strike while operating a chainsaw. From the first report of the injury on the fire line to the transfer of the patient to the ambulance at Hwy 138, a mere 31 minutes passed.

“That is pretty incredible given the distance and the terrain,” said Eric Risdel, the Safety Officer assigned to the Windigo Fire.

The staff at OR-RIC is committed to providing the best customer service to our field units, cooperators, and the public.  We face numerous obstacles throughout any increased activity event such as the lightning we recently experienced. This can range from resource shortages, support capacity breakdowns or general confusion, creating delays on a variety of levels. Additionally, dispatcher shortages nation-wide create long work hours with very few breaks over extended days, adding to the stress levels for individuals who are trying to manage a work-life balance. Amidst these complicating factors, somehow dispatch always seems to get the job done in an efficient and effective manner.

We appreciate everyone and feel fortunate to have such a great team. We’re always looking for interested individuals to join our dedicated team and have plans to hire!