Breaking News
More () »

When wildfires spark, these young dispatchers work behind the scenes

The handful of dispatcher trainees at the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center are learning a new language - something both familiar and distant.

KUSA – A fly on the wall would have to learn a new language to follow everything that goes on inside the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center.

“Right now, we’re just PREPO-ing down in Durango because it’s the driest in Colorado,” said David Lopez, sitting at his computer. “Prepositioning. PREPO,” he clarified, recognizing the confused look on this reporter’s face.

Lopez, 19, deals with a lot of acronyms and abbreviations. He’s fluent in the language of fire dispatchers.

“Basically,” Lopez said. “You have to learn it.”

Lopez is one of a handful of dispatcher trainees at the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center in Lakewood. The center helps organize and dispatch resources when big fires break out across the country. The center oversees 10, smaller dispatch centers across Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming.

“If they need additional resources beyond what can be supplied at the local level, by mutual aid or the initial attack capacity, they would be calling us to ask us what additional resources we can provide,” explained Scott Swendsen, the center’s manager.

The young dispatcher trainees are part of the USDA Forest Service Job Corps which trains and develops up to 4,000 students every year in a variety of industries. The dispatcher pilot program allows trainees to get a taste of working behind the scenes of real fires.

“It’s a humongous process,” Lopez said. “We know where everybody is. We know what resources are available and are ready to go.”

Lopez and the other dispatcher trainees already spent a year in wildland fire training before arriving at the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center.

“You see everything that goes down on how we get out there to fight the fires,” said Julian Roth.

Roth, 20, is another trainee whose real passion is fighting fires on the front lines.

“It is hard work, but it’s fun and it’s something I fell in love with,” Roth said.

Roth wanted to learn what goes on in the dispatch center so he could gain a better understanding of what it takes to fight large wildland fires.

“Me doing this, actually all of us doing this, would help us and benefit us a lot,” Roth said.

After the dispatch pilot program wraps up this summer, the goal is to provide the trainees with opportunities to work in dispatch centers across the country.

“It’s exciting to see young adults being part of this organization and potentially being a future employee of our fire agencies,” Swendsen said.

Before You Leave, Check This Out