WOODWARD — With the Northwest Oklahoma Complex Fire draining resources of local emergency crews, Gov. Mary Fallin called in the Southern Area Incident Management Team.
An incident management team is, “a group of professional emergency managers,” said Public Information Officer Michael Davis. “And I hate to use that term. They are people who manage emergencies like firefighters, logistics, planning, communications. It’s all done under the incident command system, and so we’ve got the resources to come in and manage a big incident.”
The team called to Woodward for the wildfires is known as the RED team and is a national Type 1 group - the highest level of incident management. This team has worked incidents like Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, the BP oil spill and 9/11.
This kind of intervention allows local agencies that have, in many cases, been tapped out of the fight with equipment failures and personnel exhaustion to go back to their fire departments and regroup, Davis said.
There are Type 1, Type 2, and Type 3 groups, depending on the severity of the situation.
“Type 1 is the highest level of qualifications,” said Davis. “There are only 16 Type 1 teams in the U.S. This is an all-hazard team. We can theoretically be mobilized for any kind of major event, be it wildfire, or any kind of disaster whether it be natural or human caused.”
Each member of the team, roughly 400 in personnel at this time, has to complete a Type 1 Task Book to be fully qualified.
A task book tracks each person’s progress in their training. Team members perform tasks and, if done well, a qualified member signs off on the task. There are task books for each type, one through three, which can take years to complete before they are qualified to come to an emergency such as the Northwest Oklahoma Complex Fire.
The RED team has brought with it one hot shot crew, 27 fire engines, 20 bull dozers, and air support, such as helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. The team began their task here several days ago with about 400 people but still have about 227 boots on the ground, still working toward total containment of all three fires.
The team utilizes local resources, then fills any gaps with resources of their own such as fire engines, bulldozers and air support.
Their current base of operations is set up at the event center in Woodward, where each division within the team has space and resources to complete their tasks.
Divisions include communications, planning, resources, ordering, air operations, safety officers, IT and finance.
The group even has a medical unit just for their team members and a personal meteorologist for spot weather predictions.
With a military-type system, each division is a gear in the well-oiled machine that is the Southern Area Incident Management Team.
The team has been deployed to the area since March 6, according to Davis, and will remain in the area until their services are no longer needed.