Tour of the Hayden Fire Camp at the NRC
We had the opportunity to tour the Fire Camp east of town at the Natural Resources Center. Here are some notes and observations.
The most important part of camp design according to the camp manager is "getting it right the first time." Once the big stuff like showers and food service are in place, you DON’T want to move them. The camp manager said the fire camp is just like a city, but located out-of-doors. He pointed out areas dedicated to vehicle maintenance, medical facilities, gear maintenance, supply, showers, food, sleeping, and more.
The vehicle maintenance crew, for example, is responsible for making sure all vehicles are ready for safe operation and available as needed. They even wash vehicle windows so that the crews may drive as safely as possible through smoky and dusty conditions.
The supply zone looked like a very well-organized warehouse. As we watched, a crew moved potentially hazardous materials (chain saw bar oil and fuels) off the pallets on which they were delivered to a separate area on top of a tarp and surrounded by a small dike to prevent any possible spill contamination.
It seemed clear that showers and food were a very important part of a big fire camp. The shower set-up is a good example of how so many people are served in an orderly and gracious manner. One shower truck, like the one in the photo, has 16 shower stalls and a neat configuration that allows access to the stalls to be separated in various ways to match the number of showers needed for each gender. At the moment they are split 13 for men and 3 for women, but it is easy to change it if the mix of people waiting for a shower changes. There are two rows of chairs under a shade awning in front of the shower truck and the people waiting move along the chairs like the shower supervisor said "as if in a game of Musical Chairs." There is no time limit an any individual shower. Even in the busiest of times with all chairs full, no one has to wait longer than 40 minutes. Disposable towels are available for people without. When asked when he was called to come to the fire, the shower supervisor said “Sunday,” the day the fire started. He pointed to the temporary E-2 designation on his truck, saying that that meant he was the second vehicle called in for the camp.
There are a number of big fire caches across the nation from which various fire camp teams requisition supplies to set up and maintain camps. Almost everything is cleaned, packaged and stored to be re-used after a fire. For example, they have a hose-washing machine to clean hoses after a fire.
This fire camp negotiated a use agreement with the city and another private property owner for temporary use of the land near the Natural Resources Center. They constantly wet down the roads and paths and dirt floors inside tents to keep the dust down.
Everything is provided for the fire fighters including food and clothing. Most fire personnel eat breakfast and supper in camp and take a packed lunch with them. If their duties are such that they stay on the fire and do not return to camp, meals are delivered to them. They have a laundry facility where fire-fighters can drop off dirty clothing and pick up clean clothing. It is important to note that this gear is not personal gear, instead is communal gear. Thus, fire-fighters with their own clothing do not use this laundry facility. A sign on the laundry tent read “We have canned air for cleaning tent zippers.”
Around 900 people are based out of this camp, which is on the large end for a Type 2 Camp. The camp manager did not have the hard number handy, but he thought it cost around $500,000-$750,000 per operational shift to run the camp, including all pay for the workers and support costs. There are two shifts per day, starting at 6 am and 6 pm. The fire line workers have an effective 15-16 hour work day with transportation and meal time, as well as briefings and personal maintenance such as showers.
The camp manager said that the numbers of women on the fire line crews has gone up over the years and that he now guessed that 2 or 3 women per 20 person crew was typical. Another fire information officer chimed in with “Oh yeah, there are plenty of women here who are stronger than the men!"
Almost all communication is carried out with radios and the camp has a whole communications division with mobile repeaters to increase the range of the radios as needed.
The only difficult thing about this particular camp is that it is so far from the fire, which increases transportation time and can cause some logistical difficulties.