Firefighters from across the region practice the future of disaster response in Colorado

40 fire departments participate in 'Broken Arrow' exercise. May 13, 2014

40 fire departments participate in ‘Broken Arrow’ exercise. May 13, 2014

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LOVELAND, Colo. —  Destructive wildfires cost lives, property and peace of mind every year.

And as we approach fire season, the state’s fire chiefs are doing more to get ready to respond to the next disaster.

Tuesday, they ran a test in Loveland with about 40 fire departments from across the Front Range. “We are going to initiate Broken Arrow right now,” says a firefighter to a dispatcher on the other end of a cell phone.

The words “broken arrow” launch a challenge for firefighters to arrive at a wildfire quicker than ever.

“The whole concept is to put 30 pieces of fire apparatus within 90 minutes with 90 percent accuracy,” says Mike Morgan, President of the Colorado State Fire Chiefs.

“They are responding to Budweiser Events Center on I-25,” says the firefighter to the dispatcher.

The first of five teams—each with five trucks and five firefighters aboard–arrive within the hour.

They check in–and in a real situation get ready to battle fires that keep growing in intensity.

“As we’ve seen more homes in the wild land interphase area, and continued drought the last several years, the traditional approaches are not rapid enough,” says Morgan.

A second team arrives. Then, a third.

Two of the five groups arrive after the self-imposed deadline. It is information leaders will use to improve the system.

Broken Arrow signals the future of wild land firefighting in Colorado.

No longer can communities wait for the traditional help of calling neighboring departments or for federal resources that arrive sometimes 24 hours later.

“When you look at fires that have caused most of the damage, they are wind-driven events. When you get high winds moving, you’ve got to get resources that are quick,” says Morgan.

The most destructive wildfires in the state have been wind-driven.

Jim Schanel helped beat down Waldo Canyon and Black Forest.

He’s unsure this system would have helped. But he’s certain it will help in the coming years.

“We’ve seen more incidents: flood, tornadoes, wild land fires. If you look at 20 years ago, we did not have the frequency we have now. Now, it’s every season we’re having more of these,” he says.

It’s the future of firefighting and disaster response. And the men and women on the front lines say immediate response by multiple teams is the answer.

Fire leaders say Tuesday they learned they can cut in half the time it took for dispatch to alert firefighters to hit the road.

And, in a real emergency, they’d be driving with lights and sirens.


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