The USDA Forest Service, along with our Federal, state and local partners operate the largest wildland fire management program in the world. To help manage these wildland fires the partners have created interagency incident management teams. These teams have responded to many incidents including major fires, insect infestations, the shuttle recovery and hurricanes. These incidents have tested the management skills and abilities of the agency and its partners.
On September 11, 2001, within hours of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, interagency incident management teams were dispatched to New York City and Arlington, VA. I served as an Incident Commander of the California Incident Management Team that responded to the Pentagon.
There were many questions from team members about our mission, what type of support supplies would we need, would we be in harm’s way while we were there? It was clear that our primary mission was to support the Urban Search and Rescue Task Force’s assigned but beyond that it was unclear.
The Incident Command System, developed by the Forest Service and our partners in the early 1970’s, used on a daily basis to manage incidents, was one key to success. Also each team member knew their primary role well; this allowed us to hit the ground running on the early morning of 12 September. Throughout the days that followed, the team worked tirelessly alongside other local, state, and federal responders to complete our mission. The willingness of the Forest Service employees to step up and do a task that was not a ‘normal’ team function for them was another key.
Still today there are three things that stand out for me following our response to the Pentagon. First I was extremely proud to be an American and have led a team of professionals sustained by a desire to serve the nation and its people during this time of need. Secondly I was humbled by the fact we were able to do something millions of Americans want to do in the days following 9/11, to go help in some way. We got that chance.
Finally, I fear that we as a nation will soon forget how it felt to be an American during that time in our history.