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Outline of a Fire Call

Fire calls for the mountain San Marcos Pass communities are dispatched by the county communications center in Goleta. For the San Marcos Pass calls for service, 911 information is received and then passed on the fire radio dispatcher who through the computer aided dispatch system dispatches the appropriate equipment to the call. Station 13 covers the south side of the hill and Station 32 covers the north side. Depending on the type of call, other equipment may be dispatched such as the truck from Station 11, Engine 15 from Mission Canyon, Engine 12 from Calle Real and the water tender from Station 18. Brush fire calls may include bulldozers and helicopter 308 or 309 from the Santa Ynez Airport depending on the location of the fire. A battalion chief may also be dispatched, depending on the call.

The Forest Service will also respond to calls. Brush fires may include Helicopter 528 from Santa Ynez as well as Engine 41 from San Marcos, Engine 42, 43, 44, 45 and 46 depending on the location. Battalion 41 and 42 are assigned to the area as is Division Chief 41 and Patrol 41. Air Attack 07 will also respond from the Santa Barbara airport.

WRA units respond automatically within their response area pursuant to a Memorandum of Understanding and Automatic Aid Agreement. WRA firefighters fall under the command of the chief officer having jurisdiction over the call. Structures and vehicle fires are under the supervision of the county; brush fires are under the supervision of the Forest Service.

The first unit on the scene of a call assumes command and reports to the primary unit or chief officer. This report is called a “size up.” This report includes the type of fire, size, conditions and equipment needed. Larger incidents will be given a name for identification. The chief officer or captain in command will refer to himself as the IC by the incident name such as “Highway IC.”

Depending on the type of call, responding units will be assigned to a specific frequency. For county fires, the frequency generally will be 153.980, 153.905 or 154.265. For Forest Service calls, the frequency tactical frequency will generally be 170.475. For larger incidents, other frequencies will be put to use over time. Campaign fires utilize Incident Management Teams who arrive with their own communications equipment. The NIFC frequencies are frequently used for such fires.

For brush fires during fire season, the Air Attack aircraft serves as an overhead spotter and controller for responding aircraft. County fires will generally be on 151.220. Forest Service fires they will be on 170.000. At the time of dispatch, the dispatcher also gives a “victor” frequency. This is the AM air-to-air frequency used by the pilots. This frequency is used as a type of intercom between each aircraft assigned to the fire. These AM frequencies vary, but generally are 123.075, 122.225, 135.975, and/or 118.950.

As a fire progresses, other agencies get involved. For county fire calls, “Expanded” is the logistics office for the county fire department. Logistics takes care of ordering additional resources and provides coordination of responding assets. The Incident Commander, or IC, is in charge of the incident. Operations supervise the tactics and and fire suppression efforts. The Public Information Officer, or PIO, provides information to the media and the public. The Safety Officer is responsible for making sure all safety procedures are followed. The “lookout” is a type of safety position that watches over the fire for hazards that endanger firefighters such as spot fires and flare ups. Most fires will have many “lookouts.” There are many other positions in the ICS system for larger fires but these are the most common.

The Incident Command Post (ICP) is where the incident commander will be found. It can be the back of a SUV, in an office, fire station or some other location that is not within the incident. At large fires, the IC may be at the
“Base Camp” or the Emergency Operations Center (EOC).

During large fires, firefighters may be assigned “divisions” to work in. This is a group of firefighters assigned a specific area on a fire. Frequently the division will be referred to as X, Y and Z one side and A, B and C on the other. The more people assigned and the larger the area, the more division that will be built. Each division will have a supervisor and a specific task that reports back to the IC. In large fires, several divisions will be assigned as a Branch. Branches are under the direction of the Branch Director. Division Supervisors report to the Branch Director who reports to the Incident Commander.

This provides a very brief overview of the building of a fire incident under the Incident Command System (ICS). It is important to understand that the process is fluid and may change depending on conditions. However, most every incident begins in this format.