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Training for the real thing

Local agencies stage practice session as wildfire season approaches

March 18, 2011
By ANDY NELSON-ZALESKI Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE - Managing a large wildfire takes more than sending firefighters out into the field with hoses and heavy machinery. It takes a wide variety of resources and a well-conceived plan for everything to come together smoothly.

With the wild fire season nearly here, many agencies are beginning to prepare themselves. On Wednesday, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources held a two-day wild fire training scenario in Marquette.

The fire season usually begins in the first couple of weeks in April and lasts until the end of May.

Article Photos

A group of Michigan Department of Natural Resource officials as well as other local law, fire and conservation officers attended a special wildland fire training scenario in Marquette on Wednesday. The group worked on communications and management strategies under the National Incident Management System and Incident Command System. (Journal photo by Andy Nelson-Zaleski)

Allan Keto, DNR resource protection manager for the Upper Peninsula, said the weather service is showing a moderate drought through the U.P. because of the lack of snow.

"With the lack of snow, spring and the start of fire season could come early," he said. "It all depends on what is to come in the next few weeks. In the U.P. we could still get another snowstorm and that might slow everything down."

This time between April and May is usually many fire agencies' biggest concern, or until the land green up occurs.

Green up is the process of vegetation regrowth in the spring after the snow melt off, when plants in the forest begin to sprout from the ground and leaves form on trees and shrubs.

In addition to the DNR, Wednesday's training included several plus local fire departments, Marquette County Central Dispatch, the emergency management coordinator for the county, Michigan State Police coordinator, and others.

"Every two years, we try to do this type of training," Keto said. "Two years ago, we had this training and that same year we had a big fire and our team was deployed."

The training is meant to be used as a mock simulation, but all the data used to create the scenario has been collected from real fires from the past.

The training uses the National Incident Management System, a system which is used to coordinate emergency preparedness and incident management among various federal, state and local agencies.

Within the NIMS is a management system called an Incident Command System. Sections under the ICS include an incident commander, safety officer and operations, planning and a logistics section.

Each of the groups is divided into separate parts, using the Incident Command System as its base of organization.

People at the training were divided into groups and sent to their appropriate stations, including three different rooms and the DNR's Mobile Incident Command Post.

These training sessions give all the agencies involved the opportunity to learn about what each of the ICS sections do and how each can help one another.

In one of the rooms, a group was looking over maps and scenario information and relaying it to others throughout the building via radio.

The size of the fire determines the level of response. As the fire grows the need for different resources will begin to grow.

"The (training) program helps improve the management teams ability to work with other agencies no matter where they are in the state," Keto said.

The training helps the teams better understand how to work together and also helps to work out glitches.

Andy Nelson-Zaleski can be reached at 906-228-2500 ext. 256. His e-mail address is



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