DNR’s Fire Dispatch Center takes the heat

supplies for firefighters
Wildland firefighters spend long days doing hard physical work, often in hot conditions. Crew members are encouraged to drink lots of water–four bottles of water to every one sports drink–while on a fire line.

Ever wonder how DNR mobilizes personnel, trucks, aircraft, and supplies to respond to wildland fires?  

The first response to a fire comes from local agencies such as fire departments or fire districts, including DNR personnel in the region where the fire breaks out. When wildfires grow bigger they need a broader response, often calling upon DNR personnel and equipment from other areas. That’s where DNR’s dispatch comes in.

Dispatchers must know the status of current wildfires and be able to work fast and collaboratively and, often times, under pressure. Their job is to efficiently support DNR’s response as the state’s largest wildland fire department. They often have to respond to numerous growing wildfires.

The dispatch center has fire dispatchers, weather monitors, and emergency operators. Everyone involved loves the excitement of emergency response and relishes the challenge of organizing the rapid-paced process of protecting our state’s natural resources from wildland fire.

Technology at work  

The use of technology in the dispatch room is apparent. Dispatchers and others working in the fire room are glued to phones and computer screens. Updates also come in via fax, e-mail, telephone, cell phone, and text message. To keep the public informed, fire dispatchers keep DNR Communications and Outreach staff in Olympia up-to-date so they can respond to calls from the media and the public. They post breaking news to DNR’s website, DNR’s Ear to the Ground blog, DNR’s Facebook, DNR’s Fire Twitter and Twitter pages. Major fires also are assigned public information officers who work at the scene to keep communities and the media updated.

Coordinated efforts

DNR’s dispatch room works with other multi-agency dispatch centers across the region to mobilize people, aircraft, equipment, crews, and supplies, sending them where they are needed. DNR’s operations in the dispatch center mobilize resources and people so they can safely and efficiently suppress fires.

The dispatch unit records the exact location and size of each fire as it is assessed from the air and on the ground. Staff use this information to support the teams in the field who manage the ‘initial attack’ on a blaze. Initial attack is the first suppression effort of a wildfire. It may involve dropping retardant from airplanes, dropping water from helicopters, and deploying equipment and crews on the ground. The goal is safety for residents in their homes and cars near fires; crews in trucks, vans and cars traveling to the fire; and for the personnel digging the lines and spraying water to halt the spread of a fire.

To date, DNR has extinguished more than 627 fires across Washington State. Although each fire varies in severity, threat and size, each one poses potential harm to lives, property and lands.