Facility Tour

Brian Lawatch NO Comments

I began my internship experience on Monday, October 3, 2011. I was immediately engulfed in a world of acronyms: RAWS, FWS, DOI, SCEP, SCA, BLM, NIFC, GAO, BIA, and so forth. The acronyms highlighted the fact that this is a world that is new to me; it would be a long learning process and there would be a whole lot of work. Nonetheless, I was extremely excited.

Emily Nemore, NPS Communication and Education Student Trainee, took me on a tour of NIFC on my first day. I visited the RAWS Depot, an area at NIFC that builds and maintains weather stations for fires and general weather use on public lands. They are placed in strategic locations throughout the nation and they transmit information to satellites about the local humidity, temperature, and more. At the time of my tour, there were about 500 of those devices on the base and many more around the nation. Parts are sent back from across the nation annually for repairs and maintenance and some of the damage comes from bears and other animals.

We then went to Fire & Aviation Communication Division and visited the Radio Batteries.National Radio Cache. They maintain about 1400 radios prepositioned around the nation. One of their big issues that they have to work around is batteries. Because their radios are in so many places--including at times disaster areas outside the United States such as Haiti and Africa--specialized batteries are very inconvenient. They need batteries that can be picked up at the store. That's why their radios operate on AA batteries, millions of which are used every year. The Radio Cache has been very busy this year, responding to 130 incidents at the time of my tour.

The warehouse at the NIFC holds a massive logistics inventory for fires and other incidents. It is the hub from which necessary wildland fire and related training supplies are sent and received. From MREs, to chainsaws, to all kinds of supplies, the warehouse ensures that our land managers are well equipped when they need to be.

Smokejumper LoftThe best part of the tour was the Smokejumper Loft, the big one with the tower that has the NIFC logo on it. They have quite a proud history, not unlike a military battalion. Their training is fierce and they maintain a warrior-like ethos everywhere they go. I was informed that before they even jump out of a plane, they have to pack 20 parachutes perfectly and have them inspected. Then, they jump with their 21st. That last one takes the most time to pack.

The last stop on the tour was at the National Weather Service (NWS). The branch at NIFC monitors 50,000 square miles In Idaho and eastern Oregon. Like the weather, the NWS has 24 hour a day operations. This is important for us all, as the Weather Service is in charge of issuing weather warnings, including Fire Weather Watches and Red Flag Warnings, important to firefighters on the ground.

This tour was the same tour received by visitors from the public and community leaders. Since I am in fire communications, part of my job is to inform the public about the work done by firefighters, specifically wildfire management in the National Park Service. Therefore, I am supposed to receive another, more in-depth tour of this same facility, one that will equip me to give tours myself, and that will give me a behind the scenes look at NIFC. I was supposed to go on that tour on Wednesday, October 5th, but it was rainy and nobody else showed up. I am, however, looking forward to learning more about this role as a public face of the NPS and a representative of the National Interagency Fire Center.

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