Kevin Lauer (foreground) fire management consultant with CTAS, instructs Gary West, deputy commissioner, Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance, State Fire Marshal’s Office (left) and Patrick Sheehan (right) executive director for the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.

Firefighting Teamwork

By Susan Robertson
Photo by Matthew Starling

Kevin Lauer’s Facebook Post from Nov. 29, 2016:
“Twenty-four years ago, I responded as a rookie Sevierville firefighter to what I could only imagine would be the biggest fire I would ever see. That was the Rebel Corner (the block where the space needle sits) in Gatlinburg. My mind could not imagine that I would one day have the responsibility of leading and coordinating the largest mutual aid deployment in the history of the Tennessee Fire Chiefs Association (TFCA) Mutual Aid Response team to that very same area. Today, over 120 apparatus, several incident management team members, and over 300 personnel were deployed and serving the county that I grew up in.”

As statewide coordinator for the fire chiefs’ association mutual aid response team, Kevin Lauer, fire management consultant with UT County Technical Assistance Service (CTAS), ensures systems and resources are ready for emergencies. That need arose Nov. 28 as massive wildfires spread through Great Smoky Mountains National Park and adjacent Gatlinburg.

The mutual aid team, formed by the association, UT Institute for Public Service agencies’ CTAS and the Municipal Technical Advisory Service, provides resources beyond the means of any single fire department. When large fires and natural or man-made disasters overwhelm a local community’s capabilities, the plan is activated. The team has sent aid to fires across the state and helped in the 2010 flood in Nashville.

During a briefing with the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency on Nov. 28, Lauer learned the winds were picking up. He contacted the Sevierville and Gatlinburg fire chiefs to ask if they wanted the mutual aid plan implemented to get firefighters in place.

Strike teams were activated from the Knoxville, Karns, Rural-Metro and Jefferson County fire departments, followed by firefighters from Murfreesboro and LaVergne. More firefighters arrived from Nashville, Brentwood and Chattanooga. In all, more than 150 fire and rescue agencies deployed more than 1,000 firefighters and 260 resources.

But the institute’s work wasn’t done when the fire was.

The Pigeon Forge Fire Department called in the UT Center for Industrial Services’ (CIS) health and safety program manager Walter Idol for technical guidance on structural assessments. He helped determine whether structures were safe for entry.

“The Pigeon Forge Fire Department is a valued longtime CIS customer,” Idol says, “and, especially in such a high-volume tourist area, we are proud to work with them to ensure buildings are safe for the public.”