Agencies training to improve wildfire safety

— Ten local agencies are partnering Friday to participate in a sand table exercise to test coordination, communication and decision making between the agencies and cooperators who are first responders during a wildfire.

The interagency training model will help to ensure efficient and safe response for firefighters and optimize outcomes for the public in wildland fire situations.

Participating organizations include: Craig Fire/Rescue, Moffat County Sheriff, Craig Regional Communication Center, Bureau of Land Management/Interagency Dispatch, Colorado State Forest Service, Trapper Mining, Tri-State Generation and Transmission, Moffat County Commission, The Memorial Hospital EMS, Moffat County Office of Emergency Management and Moffat County Road and Bridge.

"Moffat County has always been fortunate to have exceptional working relationships between agencies," said Lynn Barclay, BLM fire mitigation/education specialist. "This is another example of the proactive work that we can accomplish to ensure that we are prepared for worst-case scenarios."

The exercise this year will focus on Knez Divide and the surrounding area, which is a prime location for structure-threatening wildfires in remote areas of the county.

"Craig Fire/Rescue has invested a lot of time and resources in preparation for the increasing threat of wildland/urban interface fires," Craig Fire/Rescue Chief Bill Johnston said. "This is an opportunity to test our response in as realistic a setting as possible and to anticipate and address challenges we might encounter in a live scenario."

Utilizing sand tables for emergency response exercises employs a three-dimensional terrain model with various props to represent assets or liabilities.

It engages participants by engineering a learning environment that more closely resembles the areas they may find themselves working in. It is also an opportunity for the responders to practice face to face before an incident and make adjustments to the existing operating plans if they determine that is necessary.

The exercise is expected to take four hours including an After Action Review. The AAR is the final step in the process where the participants identify what worked well, what needs improvement and the actions that will strengthen response efforts.

The first similar sand table emergency response exercise took place in 2004 and focused on wildfire response in Wilderness Ranch.

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