The Anatomy of an Interagency Incident Management Team

By Lori Kimbel

The process fascinates me. With roughly 50 experts, they come together, like a family gathering, only it’s never a picnic.
Many of the people organizing the safety of the firefighters, the equipment they need and the supplies they will go through have been away from home most of the summer. With a constant deluge of new wildfires Incident Management Teams are getting scarce and the prayers for rain have gone unanswered.
The Washington Interagency Type 2 Incident Management Team #4, (WIIMT)#4, led by Commander Brian Gales was stationed at the Elgin Stampede Grounds, set to battle the Grizzly Bear Complex fire that started on August 13. The day they took command, August 20th, the fire blew up, burning 37,802 acres in a single day.
Many of these people were at the Oso Landslide in 2014, some still carry the heaviness around with them, others have seen so much destruction and too much death, they have found their own way of coping. Some most likely hold the most vivid and heart-wrenching details inside, maybe to never surface, I can’t pretend to know. Maybe they cry out at night after a nightmare, maybe they are scarred to silence.
During the 2015 fire season, WIIMT#4 was on command on the Mt. Adams Complex Fire on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest from July 3 – 17, the Baldy Fire six miles NW of Ione, Washington from August 1 – 16, the Grizzly Bear Complex 20 miles SE of Dayton, Washington (this fire also came into the town of Troy, Oregon) from August 20 – September 5, and the Meeks Table Fire near Nile, Washington from September 12 -21. This was a long, tiring fire season and this team and many others like them answered the call to put their knowledge to the test, keep firefighters safe and communication flowing.
The list of professionals that become part of an interagency incident management team is impressive. For the WIIMT#4 they come from many different agencies in both Oregon and Washington. From command, to finance, planning, logistics and operations, this team works quickly and efficiently on each and every disaster they go on. According to Gales there are approximately 50 people on the team and a lot of them have worked together for more than a decade.
Incident management teams first started in the 1970’s and were formalized by the 1980’s, according to Larry Nickey, the deputy incident commander of the Grizzly Bear Complex who is working his 38th fire season.
“Our primary goal is public and firefighter safety,” said Gales, “from there we minimize the acres burned on private and state lands.”
A typical day for Gales starts at 5:30 a.m. with an operations briefing, then at 6 a.m there will be the day shift briefing. At 7:30 the incident command call, with up to 35 people occurs. Between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. he holds a deliberate risk assessment and a stakeholder conference call. Often the stakeholders are private land owners concern for the safety of their home, their livestock, and or their livelihood. At noon there is a command and general staff meeting and by 3 p.m. there is an agency administration briefing. By 4 p.m. a strategic meeting is held to go over the planning for the next 72 hours. At 5 p.m. there is another stakeholders call and at 6 p.m. there is the night shift briefing.
“It is our job to meet the mission of the people we are working for. We are there to serve them,” said Gales. “We are there to protect the values at risk while managing the public’s exposure.”
On September 5th the WIIMT#4 left as quickly as they came. Cables were coiled, yurts were folded, pickups were loaded and all those people who made their way to Elgin to battle the Grizzly Bear Complex quietly slipped out of town. Little did they know then, but seven days later they would be off to their next mission, the Meeks Table Fire.
Thank you for all you do and for giving me the opportunity to learn about it.