FORT BELVOIR, Va. –
Call center agents and warehouse workers at the Defense Logistics Agency are working 24/7 to connect firefighters with emergency supplies needed to put out wildfires sprawling across millions of acres in California, Arizona, Colorado, Montana and other states.
Customer Interaction Center agents have handled over 610 emergency orders so far this fire season for items ranging from chainsaws and fire hoses to hardhats staged at DLA Distribution San Joaquin in Tracy, California, where workers pack and ship items for one-day turnaround. The agency has provided over $10 million in support in just the past two weeks compared to $7.3 million during the 2019 fire season.
“We anticipate at least three more weeks of severe weather activity and a significant competition for resources as most geographic areas have increased fire activity,” said Jeff Crosson, DLA’s customer account manager for the U.S. Forest Service.
On the weekend of Aug. 21, CIC agents and warehouse workers processed four emergency orders for 105 items. One order called for 7,000 radio batteries, said Megan Krueger-Youmans, a CIC customer support specialist.
“Every time the firefighters go out into the field and come back, they replace their batteries even if they only used them for an hour because they don’t want to go back out and not have communication,” she said.
COVID-19 has put an additional strain on equipment this year since firefighters can’t share personal protective equipment such as helmets, she added.
Firefighters typically place emergency orders in DLA’s Gatekeeper email system, then follow up with a phone call to CIC agents, who alert DDJC on the order number, line items and quantity requested before finalizing the order in DLA’s Distribution Standard System. Agents also ensure items are in stock and not blocked for release.
“If we’re low on a certain item and can’t fill the whole order, the CIC agents let the customer know we can send them what we have for now and send the rest as we get them in,” Krueger-Youmans said.
She and another customer support specialist worked until 3 a.m. Aug. 25 rushing orders for boots needed by National Guard troops soon deploying to assist firefighters and first responders.
“It’s rewarding to help get these emergency orders moving, and every time you see reports on the news about the fires, you wish you could do more,” she added.
According to an Aug. 22 USA Today article, 600 wildfires burned over a million acres in just one week this month in California.
DLA began working with officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildland Fire Protection Program and U.S. Forest Service in 2016 to determine the types and quantities of items to pre-stock in DLA warehouses for wildfires across the nation. The agency manages 295 wildland firefighting items.