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‘Broken Arrow’ Exercise Preps Local Fire Departments For Quick Wildfire Response

Taking part in a wildfire preparation exercise called “Broken Arrow,” crews from dozens of fire departments converged on the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland Tuesday. The exercise was designed to simulate 30 firefighting crews from multiple Front Range communities traveling to a centralized staging location within 90 minutes in the event of a large wildfire.

Mike Morgan, president of the Colorado State Fire Chiefs, said preparing now for a large deployment by multiple communities will make a difference when a large wildfire actually occurs.

“Every fire department within 90 minutes of you would deploy some resource, more automatic deployment to the staging area obviously, versus the more traditional approach of ‘hey, I’m here, it’s bad, and I need help,’ ” Morgan said.

30-90-90 Is The Mantra

A similar training exercise was conducted in Douglas County May 3.  Morgan said the mantra that he’s trying to instill in the agencies participating in the exercise is 30-90-90. 30 pieces of firefighting equipment ready and at a centralized staging area in 90 minutes from time called, 90 percent of the time.

“We’ve got representatives from local government, state government, federal government and they’re all here looking at it,” Morgan said. “This is the second time we’ve done it, we’re learning as we go. We’ve made some adjustments from the first one. We will also make some more adjustments from this one today. But we’re looking for more collaboration and partnerships. Looking outside the box a bit.”

Credit Nathan Heffel / KUNC
Broken Arrow organizers check-in and count each firefighting team and their equipment as they arrive.

The coordinated effort is part of a larger movement to synchronize multiple agencies when attacking wildfires. This past March, the Colorado National Guard teamed up with state and local firefighters to train for helicopter water drops over Chatfield Reservoir in Denver. And the recent creation of a state owned aerial firefighting fleet will allow Colorado to partner with the U.S. Forest Service and its air tanker fleet. 

All groups say the need to strengthen partnerships and mutual aid became increasingly apparent after back to back years of  large destructive wildfires.

Doing Something Different To Make A Difference

Fire Crews from as far away as Aurora’s Buckley Air Force base took part in the Broken Arrow exercise. Representatives from the Western Slope also observed Broken Arrow to see if it could work in their communities. Mark Miller, chief of the Vail Fire Department said the ultimate goal of the exercise is to make it usable statewide.

“You typically can’t amass this amount of equipment in such a short amount of time on a big fire,” Miller said. “So that’s why we’re doing something different, we’re doing these exercises to say ‘can we get this many pieces of equipment in a short period of time.’ If we can, it may make the difference in some of these big fires to call in the cavalry instead of waiting two or three days and taking resources from further away.”

There are multiple processes already in place that position firefighters and their equipment during a fire. But Miller said the “Broken Arrow” effort is based off a concept of automatic local mutual aid and resource mobilization so local departments can work together to get to a fire location as fast as possible in conjunction with state and federal resources.

While the term “Broken Arrow” can mean an accidental nuclear incident, it also was used during the Vietnam War as a distress call for all available air support when troops were in imminent danger of being overrun.

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