Crew works fire behind the scenes |

Crew works fire behind the scenes


Not all firefighters dig firebreaks or fly planes to drop retardant on the blaze.

Some sit behind a computer.

“Our job is to map the fire,” explained Mark Pierce, situation unit leader. “We map the hot spots and keep a daily progression of the fire. We know where the worst part of the fire is.”

Pierce, a wildlife biologist in his regular life, is a member of the national Martin Great Basin Incident Management Team. The team is called to manage the most intense flames, known as type I fires, and other emergency situations.

In just hours, Carson High School was transformed Thursday into an operations center, managing all aspects of fighting the fire and providing for firefighters.

By Saturday, it was as if it had always been there.

“It’s like setting up a small city,” Susan Marzec, information officer. “We have 2,000 people who have to eat, shower, get paid, all of that.”

Pierce’s office is set up in an upstairs biology classroom with a stuffed owl hanging in the corner.

Several times a day, Pierce will fly a helicopter through the smoky inferno to gather information then plot it using the geographic information system to create detailed maps.

“To fight a fire properly, you have to know where the hot spots are and what the fire is doing,” he said.

His team also tracks the topography of the area to give officials an understanding of the terrain they will be traversing.

That information is used by planning and operations teams, housed in classrooms across the hallway, which decide where to station firefighting crews and what strategy to take.

Downstairs, the technical aspects of firefighting is taken care of.

All fire crews must check in upon arrival and time cards are turned in daily to the finance office, which handles all of the money matters. That’s also where firefighter’s go if they need to file a workman’s compensation claim or receive reimbursements.

A medical unit is set up outside to handle any injuries or distribute items such as ibuprofen and toothbrushes.

Other supplies are available in front of the Naval Junior ROTC building.

“You can get everything here except airplanes,” said supply unit leader Chip Sibbernsen.

It’s where firefighters drop off their dirty clothes to be washed and pick up a clean pair of pants and shirt.

Around back, is what’s referred to as “tent city.”

Everyone on the fire, from the firefighters to the management team, sleep in tents. The tents are set up in individual groups according to crews, some have sleeping bags and pillows laying in the open field.

In the center of tent city, is the food tent, which must pass health inspections. Supplied with semi-trucks full of food, Stewart’s Firefighting Food Catering provides three meals a day, each consisting of at least 2,000 calories.

On the Waterfall fire, crews begin cooking breakfast at 2:30 a.m. and start serving at 5 a.m. Sack lunches are also prepared and given to firefighters as they leave.

Dinner is served from 5 p.m. and will continue sometimes until midnight.

“In this size of fire, this is a 23-and-a-half hour job,” said Steve Stewart, owner.

Portable toilets are set up around the encampment as well as portable showers.

“All of this is so we can get them out fighting fires, not struggling to find a bath or food,” Marzec said. “In a matter of hours we can take it down and put it back up again.”

Contact Teri Vance at or at 881-1272.