On the eve of the 2014 wildland fire season, warehouse shelves at the Northern California Interagency Support Cache were packed with goggles, hand tools and hoses.
Supplies also lined the floors of the cache, ready to be shipped to firefighters throughout northern California as the fire season approached last June.
“More than $7 million worth of materials were stocked as a buffer,” said Mark Garland, cache manager, as the Defense Logistics Agency took over management of those items from the General Services Administration one month before the season started.
While there were hurdles throughout the season, Garland said, working through those problems with DLA assured him that the agency was committed and capable of supporting his cache and the other 10 regional caches in the U.S.
DLA now manages 302 wildland fire items, with DLA Troop Support managing 296 of them. Those items were part of a larger transfer in which DLA assumed management of more than 5,000 items from GSA.
Garland said he was initially apprehensive about the transfer. GSA had been supporting wildland firefighters since 1956, providing equipment primarily to the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
Among the hurdles were funding issues for state and local firefighters, as opposed to DLA’s mostly federal customer base, said Lauren Murphy, chief of the Construction and Equipment supply chain’s item planning division. C&E manages the bulk of the agency’s wildland fire items, although all of DLA Troop Support’s five supply chains are providing some support.
These new customers, some of whom are volunteer firefighters in small towns, also had to learn and gain access to ordering through DLA’s systems.
“It was a big change for them, happening at the most critical time of the year,” Murphy said. “We’ve made a lot of progress, but still a ways to go. We want to bring some of DLA’s innovative ways of supporting the military to best support wildland fire customers.”
By the end of September, more than 49,000 fires burned nearly 4 million acres nationally, according to a report by the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service. Northern California experienced an above-normal fire season due to extended droughts, dry fuels, and wind and lightning events.
DLA Troop Support personnel were made available 24 hours a day, depending on the fire-threat level, and worked through weekends to fill urgent orders for customers, said Lauren O’Dorisio, chief of C&E’s fire and emergency services equipment branch.
During this first fire season, O’Dorisio said that C&E tried to support firefighters as much as possible through existing contracts in the F&ESE tailored support program. Garland said the DLA team has been helpful with the ordering process, especially since most of his cache’s orders are emergency orders. DLA representatives talk daily with fire customers and are involved in weekly cache calls.
Garland said that the presence of seven DLA reps at a December meeting with all of the regional cache managers was reassuring. He was also pleased to host two others at his cache in Redding, California, “where they were able to see how fast things really move.”
As a long term support plan continues to be developed, Garland is confident that the management of wildland firefighting supplies is in good hands.
”Do I think we’ll get there? Absolutely,” Garland said about working with DLA. “I know that DLA wants to support us the best it can and they’ve shown that.”