By Jamie Leary
LAKEWOOD, Colo. (CBS4)– It is the part of the firefight that most people don’t see but it’s critical. It’s the team behind the scenes, organizing and inspecting the tools fire fighters need on the front lines.
Sitting in an enormous warehouse in the Federal Center in Lakewood is what some with the Forest Service refer to as the “Home Depot” of firefighting equipment.
“We’re here to support our firefighters in the field and provide a good quality product to them to make sure they’re able to get their job safely,” said Marcus Medina, Rocky Mountain Fire Cache Manager.
There are 15 warehouses or what are referred to as “caches” across the nation. The Colorado Cache in Lakewood normally supplies to five states in the Rocky Mountain region but fires burning in the Southwest are creating a strain on inventory.
“We have nine different regions that have fire activity, that have teams out, so resources are getting slim all the way around the board.” said Medina. “We’re not only trying to support our incidents but we’re also trying to support them as well.”
The cache is supplying equipment to three incident management teams in Colorado. The cost to outfit each team varies depending on the type of team. For the type one incident management team work on the Peak 2 Fire in Breckenridge, the cost is between $2 and $3 million.
When full, the warehouse carries just shy of $30 million worth of equipment ranging from clothing and sleeping bags, to hoses and portable water tanks. While the cache supplies equipment for a variety of natural disasters but wildfires keep crews the busiest.
It’s the job of the men and women working in the cache to inspect the equipment and get it right back out to the fire fighters.
“We go through a refurbishment guide and all that stuff is processed through by washing, testing and then repackaging and put back on the shelf so we can use it again,” said Medina. “Every single item has a process and a step.”
Matt Mixon with the Forest Service showed CBS4’s Jamie Leary a pair of Nomex pants he was inspecting.
“So stuff like this, where the firefighters actually come in contact with the flames… this is what the Nomex does when it comes in contact… obviously this is bad. We’ll accept a few if they’re not too bad or they don’t go through the fabric,” said Mixon.
Currently, the warehouse has less than half of it’s normal inventory. Medina admits that the workload outside of Colorado is more demanding than usual. Still, he says he has never been in a situation where the cache could not fulfill a demand. He says busy summers are just the nature of the business.
– Visit CBSDenver.com’s Living With Wildfire section.
Wildfire Photo Galleries
Jamie Leary joined the CBS4 team in 2015. She is currently a reporter for CBS4 This Morning, which means she is always on the go, covering a wide variety of breaking local news and important local events. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter @JamieALeary.