Issue resolved, but Merkley wants to make sure crew chiefs shortage doesn't happen again
BEND,Ore (KTVZ) -- The major wildfires in Oregon have prompted an all hands on deck response. From local fire crews to the Oregon National Guard, efforts to bring the blazes under control have been far-reaching.
But authorities ran into an issue when trying to utilize all of their resources.
Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., told NewsChannel 21 Wednesday that he estimated there were 375 National Guard members ready for a disaster like this -- three teams of 125.
"We ran into a problem in Oregon where we didn’t have enough crew chiefs for all three teams to deploy," Merkley said.
A National Guard representative told NewsChannel 21 Wednesday that their personnel who are sent to help need fire crew chiefs to work under.
With the limited availability of crew chiefs, only two of the three groups went out, initially.
"The whole goal of having them trained in advance was so they could be deployed immediately, so we’ve undoubtedly learned some lessons here about the resources that are needed on the crew chief side, which I never heard about before this year being a problem," Merkley said.
The senator added that the unprecedented wildfire event is partly to blame.
"Because of the simultaneous fires in Washington state and California -- and actually several other states as well, but those were the biggest ones -- that we faced an issue that we hadn’t faced before," Merkley said. "Normally, you have fires in one place and you can move the crew chiefs and so forth."
The Oregon Department Of Forestry also explained just how unprecedented this fire event has been, causing them to work hard to keep up. Agency spokesman Jim Gersbach spoke with NewsChannel 21 as well on Wednesday.
"We’ve been looking at some of the acreages that we’ve seen, and this is beyond what we would see in an entire year for most seasons," Gersbach said. "About a half-million acres or so might burn in Oregon from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, and we’ve seen more than that in just one 72-hour period"
Gersbach stressed that safety and preparation are vital as well.
"We always had envisioned them (Guard members) going out in a staggered fashion," he said. "And I believe it was over the weekend we had Contingent 1, was 125, and then the second contingent went out, and then the third one has now been deployed.
"So whether there was a day or two in there where they were catching up with resources for them, obviously our goal is to make that sure anyone deployed to the fire has all the equipment they need before they're actually doing the work at the fire," Gersbach added.
Merkley, however, is looking ahead.
"Is it possible that National Guard themselves could be trained on the crew chief level by being deployed on other exercises, other fires?" the senator asked. "I don’t know the answer, but we've got to figure that piece out for this model to work."
As mentioned, the third National Guard group has been deployed after getting needed resources.