USFS Prescott Fire Center: Trained To Respond

The fire center combines an aviation program, an incident coordination and communications center, a fire cache, an air tanker base, the Prescott Interagency Hotshot Crew, a helitack crew, a fire and emergency incident training program and a Business...

The center is a model of cooperative, efficient management among agencies that dispatch resources across the country. The center's staff works with local fire and law enforcement agencies to suppress fires and to help mitigate other types of incidents on and adjacent to the forest.

Dispatchers also gather and compute weather data from weather stations and fire lookout towers in the area during fire season, predict weather's effects on fire behavior and provide that information to units in the field. This is a critical factor in firefighting safety.

Prescott fire cache. This fire cache is one of 11 that are strategically located throughout the nation. The equipment and supply needs for 2,500 firefighters are stored in this giant storage warehouse. Tools of all description, fuel for power tools, firefighter clothing, MREs (Meals Ready to Eat), tents, sanitary facilities, nozzles, fittings and about 20 miles of various diameter hoses all valued at about $10 million are just some of the hundreds of items stored in this cache.

After use, the supplies and equipment are returned where the staff checks, cleans, repairs, recycles or replaces items. During a busy wildland fire season, up to 70 seasonal employees can be working around the clock at the fire cache.

Wildland engine crews. The PNF fire managers are located in the Prescott Fire Center. Robert Morales is the PNF's fire management officer (FMO) and Tony Sciacca is the fire division chief/FMO of the West Zone District. Dugger Hughes is the fire division chief/FMO of the East Zone District that also covers the Coconino National Forest. Hughes is also the operations chief on one of the South West Area Type 1 Incident Management Teams. That team spent a five-week tour of duty coordinating logistics following the 9/11 attacks.

These three seasoned fire officers have overall command of all firefighting operations and related fire suppression training on the PNF. They are assisted by fire battalion chiefs. Wildland engines and engine crews are directly supervised by engine captains. Staffing on engines is an officer and three to five personnel. The staffing is a mix of 40 permanent and 25 seasonal wildland firefighters. Many members of the firefighting staff are cross-trained in structural and wildland fire operations.

Wildland engines on the PNF consist of two "type 3" engines (large), five "type 6" engines (small) and three patrol units. The wildland engines are housed in the municipal fire stations of the Prescott Fire Department and the Central Yavapai Fire District. A unique bond of camaraderie and mutual cooperation exists between the USFS wildland firefighters and the local municipal structure firefighters.

When the alarm is sounded for a wildland fire in or near the PNF, fire suppression agencies are automatically dispatched from both the USFS and the local fire department, regardless of which jurisdiction the fire is located in. The nearest fire units respond. If the fire is located in the W/UI, air support will be launched as well.

Years ago, this beneficial partnership between agencies was not as evident as it is today. This partnering is the result of the realization that no single agency can go it alone in this complex society; the need to hit fires early, fast and hard with as many resources as is possible, using the incident command system, keeps fires from becoming catastrophic; rapid growth of values-at-risk (W/UI) into and adjacent to vegetation; a clear sense of vision by the fire chiefs, their staff officers and firefighters from both structure and wildland agencies; training and drilling together and understanding each agency's differences and goals. And, of course, fighting fires side by side builds lasting relationships.

The beautiful and popular Prescott National Forest is a forest that is experiencing tremendous urban pressures. It is a forest at risk from wildland fire. The populations of the City of Prescott and the entire Prescott Basin area are well protected from fire due in great part to the USFS Prescott Fire Center and its resources - its people!

Robert M. Winston, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a 33-year veteran of the fire service and a retired Boston Fire Department district fire chief. He is a wildland/ urban interface and structural fire service presenter and adjunct college instructor. Winston can be contacted at 928-541-9215 or e-mail: