03-13 Wildfire

by Ernest Bywater

Copyright 2007 by Ernest Bywater as Ernest Edwards

Drama Story: In March 2007 an officer under evaluation diverts his command to deal with a major crop fire and is faced with command and control problem. He resolves the issue in an unexpected manner.

Tags: Fiction   Military   Vignettes   Workplace   Extra Sensory Perception   Politics  

In mid March, 2007 Major Gordon Mannheim is an acting Lieutenant Colonel, and in charge of the 3rd Claymore (The Rocks) on a mountain climbing exercise in the Darunch Mountains. Colonel Phillips, the Rocks’ regular commander, is to evaluate Gerry’s performance. Technically, the Colonel is outside of the command chain during the evaluation and until they return to the barracks, but is able to take command if he sees the need to. The weather is hot and very dry, and it’s been an unusually hot and dry year. The wind is strong and coming from the ocean.

Mid-morning the regiment is back at its vehicles after a night climbing exercise, breakfast, and a routine descent. Gerry senses something is wrong. Turning to Corporal Chektar he orders the larger of their two UAVs (Unmanned Air Vehicles) launched. This is little more than a radio controlled plane built around a camera and other sensors. It radios all its readings back to the control unit. The larger unit has a longer duration, and has an on-board computer with a few set programs. Colonel Phillips notes the unusual orders, but he does nothing because he’s interested in seeing what the younger officer is up to.

With the UAV in the air Gerry orders the regiment to mount up. When they move out he has Corporal Chektar direct the UAV to the south-east, and the vehicles to the east instead of north to the barracks. Twenty minutes later the UAV is most of the way to the south-eastern corner of the Kotar Plain. Its camera is showing a large ground fire rapidly moving west with the breeze. Gerry asks the radio operator for the civil emergency channel. The operator changes the frequency, and sends the ‘record and retransmit’ signal while he hands the live microphone to Gerry.

Taking the microphone Gerry says, “Urgent, urgent, wildfire southern section of the Eastern Kotar Plain, repeat. Wildfire southern section of the Eastern Kotar Plain. This is Colonel Gordon Mannheim, 3rd Claymore, there’s no way to stop this before The South Road or Eastern Road Two. All fire-fighting services to deploy accordingly. All persons in the area to immediately evacuate. Move people, out.” Looking at the radio operator he says, “Clay Comm please, Private Smith.” Once connected he tells them of the situation, and asks for assistance.


Thirty minutes later the regiment reaches The Southern Road, and meets up with the local fire services and local volunteer fire-fighters. Gerry is the senior officer in charge. However, he instructs the senior fire-fighter (Chief Tarar) to assign her people to his people, two fire-fighters per platoon, and to deploy them to where she wants them to fight the fire. Realising she’s dealing with an officer who knows to let the experts take over she smiles, and does so. Gerry radios the Marley Militia, and confirms they’ve responded. They’re now doing the same thing along Eastern Road Two.

Gerry takes Chief Tarar into the regimental command vehicle, and shows her the pictures from the UAV; she’s impressed by the extra information this gives them. They’re quick to work out the few services already deployed along Eastern Road Two will be able to back burn and protect that side, unless the wind shifts. It’s blowing due west, and right at the section of The Southern Road they’re on. Gerry orders the second UAV deployed to give them a better view of the ground right in front of them.

A few minutes later Chief Tarar works out a plan and she explains it to Gerry, he concurs. When she starts issuing orders to everyone he just stands behind her nodding his head, his officers depart to carry out her orders. They’ll be back-burning five hundred metres on the fire side of the roads, then flood the irrigation ditches and the crop area for about a kilometre. The crops are as tall as the fire-fighters, and she doesn’t want to risk losing people by getting them caught in the fire, so they’re to stay out of the crops while they work to contain it. More fire-fighters are now arriving, and they’re directed off to the houses in the danger area. Where possible they’re to set up safety zones around the houses to try to save them, but to take no risks.

Most of the Fire Service helicopters are sent to spray fire retardant along the forest edge so the fire can’t get into the forest and bypass them. This will increase the forest’s protection from the fire. The forest is still very lush and green, but it can dry out and burn with the heat of the fire. The rest of the helicopters are dropping fire retardant around the houses, also on the actual fire when they can. Again, the focus is on containment of the fire first.

Troubled Command

Preparations to stop the fire from spreading too far are well under way when a Senior Fire Chief from the Berana Fire Service turns up, and demands to know why they aren’t sending people in to put the fire out. He’s on holidays in the area. Chief Tarar explains a crop fire isn’t like a building fire, and they’re trying to contain it to the one sector while saving people and buildings. The Senior Fire Chief says he out ranks her, and he’s ordering everyone into the fire front to put it out to save the crops.

Gerry steps forward while saying, “I’m sorry, Chief Deslard, but I’m in charge here, and you’re not my specialist adviser, Chief Tarar is because she’s experienced with crop fires.”

Chief Deslard replies, “I don’t know what experience or knowledge you have, sonny, but my rank is such you need to be a general to out rank me. Now follow my orders.”

Everyone in the command centre, except Corporal Chektar, is very shocked and surprised when Gerry takes out an identity wallet, opens it, and shows it to Deslard before saying, “Chief Deslard, you’re relieved of all command and authority until such time as it’s returned to you by a review board of the Berant National Fire Service. This, I so order by the authority of King Herbert, as his duly appointed representative. Chief Tarar, you’ve full command of all emergency services in this area until informed otherwise by myself or this emergency’s over.”

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