A building at the airport now will coordinate local, state and federal wildland firefighting efforts for two-thirds of Wyoming.

"What this dispatch center does with the communities of Wyoming is they get those resources that are so desperately needed in a time of fire when there's fire coming to somebody's house, to the door, to their grasslands," said Kelly Norris, Wyoming state forester for Johnson, Sheridan, and Campbell Counties based in Buffalo.

Norris also is the chairwoman of the interagency firefighting group that includes representatives from counties, the state, the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

"They're getting their resources quickly and efficiently as possible, and it doesn't matter what agency, and that's what the 'interagency' means," she said during the dedication of the center at .

"This building basically coordinates all of that," Norris said. "It is tracking those fires. It is making those phone calls. It is getting ahold of all of the important agency rep(resentative) people that have the money bags, that are giving permissions. It is getting ahold of all of your aviation, and it is coordinating all in one place."

Last week, Norris and representatives of these and other agencies dedicated the new Casper Combined Interagency Dispatch Center at the Casper-Natrona County International Airport.

The center, a former office of the Federal Aviation Administration at 3777 Airport Parkway, now includes the Rawlins fire dispatch center, which closed after several retirements. The agencies were able to scrape together money from their budgets, so no extra funding was required, several agency representatives said.

The dispatch center was in the BLM's office in Casper, and it had only 500 square feet for the personnel and equipment to coordinate firefighting efforts. Oversight agencies had criticized that setup for years, agency representatives said.

Besides the extra room, its location at the airport allows for greater coordination with the Casper Single Engine Air Tanker base also located there, BLM spokesman Brady Owens said. The center also will streamline the mobilization of firefighters that use the airport to travel to wildland fires within the center’s zone of responsibility, Owens said.

The center, he added, covers Weston, Campbell, Sheridan, Johnson, Natrona, Converse, Niobrara, Goshen, Platte, Laramie, Albany, Carbon, Sweetwater, Uinta and parts of Lincoln, Sublette and Fremont counties.

This center also works with those in neighboring states whose operations areas include some of Wyoming.

Rachel Simpson is one of the dispatchers, and like her co-workers, is a trained firefighter herself.

Simpson, an intel dispatcher and initial attack dispatcher for center, rides herd on a phone, data bases, and three monitors:

  • One with a topographic map tracks the government aircraft -- helicopters, tankers, smoke jumper ships -- over a fire zone.
  • One with maps tracks ground resources such as fire engines, and it tracks the resources sent out of the region such as when Wyoming firefighters went to Montana last year.
  • One is a radio repeater that allows her to have communications with multiple firefighting crews at one time.

As intel dispatcher, Simpson tracks the location, cause and acreage of a fire, and the resources sent to fight it, she said.

As the initial attack dispatcher, she takes the initial report, calls the counties, calls resources, and keeps track of the resources on the radio, Simpson said.

The amount of resources sent depends on the fire danger determined by the weather -- temperatures, winds, and relative humidity. The higher the fire danger, the more resources are sent, she said. "It's better to have too many than not enough."