National Incident Management team employs local help This is the third and final story in a series covering Carbon County’s efforts in fighting an 80,000-acre wildfire in High Park, Colo. In this story, the Sun investigates the behind-the-scenes work necessary to responding to a national incident like a wildfire. By Leah Todd July 18, 2012 In June, Larry Trapp, of Rawlins, joined twenty-six other fire specialists from a five-state area to tackle the natural disaster that was Colorado’s High Park Fire. Trapp spent 15 days fighting the fire—without ever donning a fireproof suit. Trapp’s expertise is aviation, and he worked as an Air Operations Branch Director with the Rocky Mountain Type I Incident Management Team. “They’re all highly experienced and highly trained,” Trapp said of the individuals on the Rocky Mountain Team. “We have people who are trained in logistics and finance. We have other folks who are in charge of ground operations. And then we have folks that deal with information distribution. And then, of course, we have the command structure, which is the incident commanders and the safety officers.” By the time of the High Park Fire’s containment on July 12, more than 1,900 firefighters had responded to the blaze. Massive teams like this require massive coordination, and the Department of Homeland Security structures National Incident Management Teams to effectively organize such a sizeable disaster relief effort. As an Air Operations Branch Director, Trapp managed every aircraft assigned to the High Park Fire—a total of more than 40 fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. “My job was being the manager of all those aircraft, and assigning the missions, setting up spaces for them to operate out of,” Trapp said. “Some of the more challenging parts of it was taking and managing the air space above the fire so we don’t have air space incursions from the public.” Local airports near the fire posed additional challenges for Trapp, who identified and enacted temporary flight restriction areas. Assigning the right aircraft to the right mission was an ongoing, almost hourly decision based on the fire’s behavior, Trapp said. Under Trapp’s command, helicopters dropped 2.2 million gallons of water on the flames, and fixed-wing aircraft released 750,000 gallons of fire retardant. But air attacks like these don’t put fires out by themselves. It’s a team effort between the firefighters and aviation, according to Trapp.
“If there’s a hand crew cutting a fire line, then the job of aviation is to go in and cool the edges down, so the folks on the ground can get in and do their work, their part of the effort,” Trapp said. “We’re there to support (the firefighters). We organize it, provide them a safe work environment and support their efforts.” As incidents change in size or complexity—or as they begin to threaten more structures—a more qualified team is summoned to the scene. Incident Management Teams are ranked as Type I, II, III, IV, or V based on the team members’ qualifications and levels of training. Trapp’s Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team is ranked as Type I, the most highly qualified. The High Park Fire was unique in terms of its incident status, according to Trapp. Initial response began with local forces in Colorado attacking the fire, then quickly escalated to a Type II team. “(This fire) went from a Type II team to a Type I team in about 12 hours,” Trapp said. “Normally, we’ll receive a phone call and it’s anywhere from 12 to 24 hours (before we leave).” But Trapp went down to the High Park Fire early, arriving to help the local forces with their aviation resources before the rest of the team arrived. “As a group, all risk-management teams do hurricanes, floods, earthquakes—you name it,” he said. Trapp has served on response teams for Hurricanes Katrina and Hugo, floods on the Kansas river and Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake. He started his career in 1968 as a firefighter on the ground, and currently serves as the Deputy County Fire Warden out of Rawlins. “I’m from a family of firefighters,” he said. “My dad was a firefighter for 37 years, my brother is currently a fire chief in central California.” “The really important people are the firefighters,” Trapp said. “Without them I couldn’t succeed. Just like if I’m not around, they might not succeed. We are so interdependent that that’s what makes us a team.” “It’s always a team,” Trapp said. “It’s not just me.” Editor’s Note: The High Park Fire was estimated to be 100 percent contained as of July 1, 2012, according to InciWeb.org. The fire burned 87,284 acres 15 miles west of Fort Collins, Colo., destroying 259 homes, and was reportedly started by a lightning strike on private land. Its final estimated cost of damage is $39.2 million.