COLORADO SPRINGS — The escalating threat of wildfire in Colorado has motivated action by public safety leaders. “Over the years I’ve watched the fire problem and conditions change, get worse and worse and it’s that old adage of you can’t keep doing things the same way and expect different outcomes,” said Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control, Director Mike Morgan.
Strategies for combatting wildfire are changing. One of those is improving the way local, state and federal fire agencies work together. Mutual aid is not new—the evolution in Colorado attempts to make it more effective.
One of the strategies showing success is called a Surge response. “That says every tool in the tool box is free of charge. Let’s not argue about who owns it, who’s paying for it, let’s just keep these bad days from becoming bad weeks,” said Morgan. Not long ago a request of mutual aid could take a day or two for help to arrive. The surge plan dispatches help much quicker.
Battalion Chief Steve Wilch with Colorado Spring Fire Department was called up in a Surge, to help at the massive Marshal Fire in Boulder County. “We coordinated efforts to support them in a long duration fight through the night.” Wilch and his team were at the fire within hours of it starting.
Many other Colorado agencies also moved in to aid with the firefight. “They called for Surge,” Morgan said state resources mobilized, “We were able to bring an additional 57 pieces of fire apparatus from 47 different fire departments.”
Colorado’s Surge brings an alternative to a nationwide model where mutual aid teams get a 14 day call-out. It can be difficult for local agencies to share personnel and resources for weeks. Surge support can happen for a couple days rather than weeks.
Wilch explained there is the immediate, “That means that resources outside of that area are being assembled in a surge and they are asked to come as fast as they can.”
Another option is a scheduled surge when bosses at a wildfire may foresee a need for extra crews. “They’ll call us and say can you assemble and be here tomorrow morning or can you assemble and be here by this evening,” said Wilch. Wind in the forecast heading toward a fire zone is an example of when a schedule surge is warranted.
The surge response is all about extra resources and extra people when local resources are maxed out or overwhelmed. “Invest money early in an attempt to keep those fires form getting big,” said Morgan. The return on the investment is minimizing wildfire destruction that comes at a much greater cost.
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