Back in the day, I fought wildfires for the New Mexico State Forestry Division. I was an Engine Boss. And on the District I started on, I was Queen of the Hose Lays. If there was a way, I got water to the fire. Now, I’m not talking the large ones you’re seeing on the news. They were local to our District, or helping on one of the other five districts. I was an IC Type 4 trainee when I left for the state office, but the mega-fires going now – I have deep respect for the incident commander and command staff. Couple hundred acres were enough for me.
Line job and Camp job
My first supervisor had a smart rule – we were all trained for a line job, the Engine Boss, in the Operations section. But as all firefighters age, he knew we couldn’t stay on the line forever, so we got training for a support job done from camp – logistics, time keeping, purchasing, check-in, demobilization, planning. Since I was doing geographic information systems (GIS) work, it made sense that I did mapping. It’s undergone many names GIST, GISS, GISP. And then I saw Infrared Interpreter (IRIN) and never looked back.
When I was trained twelve years ago or so, the US Forest Service plane would fly after dark and take infrared images of a fire, land at a nearby airport and hand a paper strip of images showing the heat signature of the fire. The IRIN would be at the airport, usually outside the locked fence, and get the images, drive back to an office or hotel, and draw the perimeter and location of intense and scattered heat on a paper map like USGS Topographic quad sheet(s). They would then have to get the map to the incident command post and brief the Situation Leader (SITL) and others so they in turn could plan the day’s suppression activities. Getting the map there by 4 a.m. if possible so the planning could be completed by 6 a.m. briefing.
Those were the days. Driving half-asleep. Mountain roads. Elk, deer and other critters crossing the narrow mountain dirt roads in front of you. Sleeping days, working nights. That’s the part that hasn’t changed. But the paper strips have gone away. A couple years of digital images on a thumb drive and strips have evolved to all digital files uploaded to a computer while the plane is still flying. Then the IRIN downloads to their computer, makes the perimeter and maps the heat in a GIS software and uploads the map files to another location for the SITL and GIST to have for planning. The IRIN briefing occurs in a log file and sometimes by email, text or phone now.
When I left state employment, I was able to continue working as an Administratively Determined (AD) with the assistance of a US Fish and Wildlife unit that sponsors my Red Card. A Red Card is documentation that I am who I say I am and I’m qualified to be an IRIN. All people working on those fires you see on the news have one. Most have several jobs listed. All have continued training to be eligible, and those in command of the big ones have A LOT of experience.
An AD is like a contract employee. When we are needed, they hire us and we’re paid for hours we work. Since IRIN work can now be done remotely, IRIN’s work from their home office without traveling – saving us tax payers money. It’s also safer as we’re not dodging the elk, deer and opossums.
Another Contract Gig
So, like the rest of our consulting, working as an IRIN is highly unpredictable. Some
fire seasons not every IRIN gets to work. And when you take an assignment you’re on for 14 nights. There are 200 or so qualified IRINs in the Nation. When one is needed the Incident Command system is suppose to work closest resource first. I’ve never interpreted a fire in my time zone since coming to Nebraska. I’ve covered fires in every state west of here though, including one my sister and brother-in-law were evacuated for precaution.
I enjoy staying connected in the fire community and providing support for all those on the line. However it’s another thing I do that keeps me from other business needs. I’ve been on this assignment since last Thursday 7/6. Monday night the fire I’m assigned got rain, so I was able to get some posts typed and scheduled. I usually don’t start working til after 1700 (5 pm). But if the fire I’m mapping is late in the schedule I might not get to bed til 0700 (my time, fire was in Nevada -2 hrs).
You take work when it’s available. I work on the tree loss appraisals I did field work for a few weeks ago when I get up, around feeding my husband and walking the pups, toss a load of clothes in and finish up gathering addresses for blind contacts for Trees2Products. Does SCORE have a resource for more time in the day?
If you’re of a mind to, say a prayer for our fire fighting resources, they’re stretched thin. For all those in the path of the flames, those that have had to evacuate, those that have lost property. And the two fire fighters that have lost their lives in the last week – one during a training exercise and one in chainsaw accident, and their families.