Command Post partnership with city improved

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Editor's note: This is the last in a series of stories showcasing the close ties and shared responsibilities between Academy first-responder agencies and their civilian counterparts.

Master Sgt. Michael Mullins can tell you what was going on in the 10th Air Base Wing command post on June 27, 2012, but not because he was there.

Two other NCOs, Tech. Sgt. Terrence Dixon and Staff Sgt. Wintana Dawkins, sat in the secure facility as the Waldo Canyon fire edged toward the Air Force Academy's southwestern border, while Mullins and his wife greeted their newborn son.

"They kept me informed with what was going on, and I came into work the next day," Mullins said.

Mullins, the command post's superintendent and an Airman since 1992, has nearly 17 years of experience as a command post specialist, including tours of duty at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, and Air Force Space Command Headquarters on Peterson AFB. He said he and his NCOs learned from their Waldo Canyon efforts, particularly in terms of interacting with off-base agencies.

"We learned that there are more conduits for information than just the ones we normally train for," he said.

One such conduit was Ken Helgerson, the Academy's fire chief.

"He was our lead for information from the front: structures burned, structures saved," Mullins said. "On the other side was the 10th Force Support Squadron, which gave us accountability for people who lived in the area."

Experience that Mullins and his Airmen gained from the Waldo Canyon fire helped them when the Black Forest fire erupted less than a year later, in June of 2013. They coordinated more closely with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to manage a helicopter staging area just north of the Academy's airfield, and they made sure the incident command center had information on 10th Civil Engineer Squadron assets such as firefighters and vehicles.

"It felt calmer during the Black Forest fire," he said. "From our interaction with the commander's action team, it went a lot smoother. We knew what we were looking for, and we knew what we wanted to report to higher headquarters."

The Waldo Canyon fire burned 29 square miles and destroyed 346 homes, with most of the damage taking place in the first six days. It was declared 100-percent contained 17 days after it was spotted. The Black Forest fire burned 22 square miles and destroyed more than 500 homes but was contained just nine days after it erupted, thanks in large part to rainfall that showered the burn area on the third and fourth days.

The 10th ABW command post serves as a nerve center for responding to emergencies and notifying the public about inclement weather that may pose a safety risk, such as lightning spotted within five nautical miles, tornado watches or warnings or heavy snowfalls. Its personnel manage the base public address system and the Falcon Alert notification system. In addition, it reports the status of resources and training to the Pentagon and keeps the 10th ABW commander fully informed about ongoing responses.