Sunday, July 1, 2012


           I’ve been sitting through training classes for the last few years and have just started teaching them recently. Do you ever sit in some of these classes and wonder what you’re really getting out of them? You learn the principles, objectives and the way that things should be done, but when can you really apply them? Exercises are great to practice, but they’re also just training. In the last two months, I have seen it all come together; experiences in not only ICS, but leadership, management and even some of those preverbal ‘judo’ classes have been eye opening.

            In April 2012, I got a call from the Commerce City Police Department asking for me to come do Plans and Logistics for the operation at a landfill in their search for a missing, yet presumed deceased, baby. I’ve been in Emergency Management for four years and never thought a request like that would come in. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I had been on some small fires that only lasted one operational period, but this was expected to last for weeks. I jumped at the opportunity to go help in such a sad situation, and if anything, to help bring justice to this child. My first day, I arrived on scene and the first thing that hit me was the smell. We were in the middle of a landfill and had 2.5 acres of trash, 20 feet high, to sift through. We had eight IMT members there every day, sitting in the mobile command post in the middle of trash, filling the Command and General Staff roles; I had never done plans so that was a new experience. We had the responsibility of the IAP each day and check in/check out, and we also helped out with volunteer management. Logistics was a little different than what I was used to as well. We had to shop every day for water, Gatorade and snacks since we never knew when the operation would end. The catering was scheduled to bring lunch every day, but we didn’t need 40 pallets of stuff hanging around that we had no place to put. I had some strange requests too…one of the workers had asked for essential oils to put in his mask so he didn’t have to smell the trash. I also quickly figured out that law enforcement operations are vastly different from fire operations. This operation was extremely small, roughly 40-50 people on scene each day with only a day shift operational period. Fire operations, in contrast, can have a couple thousand people working through the night and can last for weeks at a time. The main agencies that worked each day were the Army and Air National Guard, Douglas County OEM and numerous volunteers. The operation lasted 53 days before the infant’s body was recovered.

            Only a few weeks later, I was deployed to the High Park Fire in Ft. Collins, CO. I was deployed as an Ordering Manager Trainee with the Rocky Mountain Type 2 IMT and was held over for a week with the Type 1 team. We had four Ordering Managers, three Supply Unit Leaders and three Logistics Section Chiefs that I worked with specifically. Our process was having an order filled out on a 213 General Message and ordering items through Expanded Dispatch with the Forest Service dispatch center in Ft. Collins. Ordering was hectic at times because of all of the info needed to order something specifically, we had to run around and find the person who ordered it and find out. Until supplies could be properly ordered, such as living arrangements, many of us slept in our vehicles. That can really take a lot of time! I’ve had years of training classes and working on an incident of this magnitude made them click; it all came together . The ICS components finally seemed to make sense and watching some things like the chain of command work really made sense. We’re taught a certain way to do things and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. ICS works. I ordered more supplies then I can name, overhead that came in every day and equipment and crews that I didn’t know existed. The High Park Fire was a priceless learning experience and now I feel more confident in teaching ICS.

           The experiences I’ve had in the last month have been monumental for me. I’ve learned more than I ever thought I could, met some amazing people who love to share what they know and have a much better handle on ICS. It’s not often that someone can say “I truly love my job” but I am one of the lucky people that can.

Cherie Abbott
The Blue Cell, LLC