March 02, 2013

Oh no, the tour bus has caught on fire at the filling station and now the high school is threatened!

A tour bus lies next to the yellow "gas station." Crumpled white paper represents smoke from burning buildings.
The idea of grown-ups pushing toy fire engines around while making siren noises is funny,  but the evening becomes more serious as it goes on.

Still re-assessing the communications snafus from the October 23, 2012, fire, the county emergency services manager has set a training exercise for the fire departments, sheriff's office, ambulance service, etc. (Models and coaching provided by Blue Cell.)

In the first scenario, a school shooting, I fill in as a state trooper. My job is to stop traffic coming into town on a two-lane highway. Not too hard.

In the second scenario—the tour bus fire—our water tender and one engine make the half-hour drive to the county seat, are temporarily forgotten in the staging area (Lesson: who is your staging manager?), and are then dispatched miles out of a town to a house fire in a small resort area.

Only it started as part of a domestic-violence incident, and the guy is running around with a shotgun! This time a new state trooper arrives and captures him! (Nice work, Ricardo.) We draft water from the nearby lake to refill the tender and the engine and continue mop-up and overhaul at the house. OK.

For the last scenario, the scene shifts to our corner of the county, where a lightning-caused fire has popped up near Something Creek Estates. "Driving" the water tender, I follow our brush truck up the narrow gravel road that provides the only access.

Since that crew has their hands full, I am on the radio more, and now I am default incident commander. So it goes with the volunteers: whoever shows up is the crew, and the chain of command is vague at first.

I call for mutual aid—other departments and the feds, since the fire is on the national forest border. Can we get an air tanker?

And then the deluge hits: Do I want to order an evacuation? What areas? Where do the evacuees go to check in? Who has keys to that building? Where are the arriving mutual-aid units supposed to stage? What about the media — there is a TV crew already near the fire house—do we ask them to move back "for safety"? Where do the roadblocks go? The evacuation order covered the wildlife rehabilitators' home—who will help rescue the bear cubs?

And two houses are already burning.

I am rapidly hitting the "Help! Make it stop!" point. 

By that point in the evening, everyone is a little tired, and attention starts to wander. We let the scenario trail off with no clear ending — so it is still bouncing around in my head when I wake up this morning.

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