The Role of a Dispatcher in Wildland Firefighting

A Dispatcher in wildland firefighting plays a pivotal role in coordinating the response to wildfires, ensuring that resources are allocated efficiently and communication remains clear and constant. These individuals are the unsung heroes behind the scenes, providing critical support to firefighters on the ground and in the air. Here’s a detailed look at what a Dispatcher does in wildland firefighting:

Key Responsibilities

  1. Receiving and Processing Emergency Calls:
    • Emergency Call Handling: Dispatchers receive 911 calls and other emergency notifications about wildfires. They gather essential information, including the location, size, and nature of the fire, and determine the urgency of the situation.
    • Prioritization: They prioritize calls based on the severity of the incident and the potential threat to life, property, and natural resources.
  2. Resource Allocation and Coordination:
    • Mobilizing Resources: Dispatchers deploy firefighting resources, such as engines, crews, aircraft, and equipment, to the wildfire site. They ensure that the appropriate resources are sent to the right location in a timely manner.
    • Tracking Resources: They maintain real-time tracking of all deployed resources, ensuring that firefighters, vehicles, and aircraft are accounted for and can be redirected as needed.
  3. Maintaining Communication:
    • Communication Hub: Dispatchers serve as the central communication hub, relaying critical information between fire crews, command centers, and other agencies. They use radios, phones, and digital communication systems to ensure seamless coordination.
    • Status Updates: They provide regular status updates to incident commanders and other stakeholders, keeping everyone informed about the fire's progression and resource status.
  4. Incident Documentation:
    • Record Keeping: Dispatchers meticulously document all aspects of the incident, including resource deployment, communication logs, and key decisions made during the response. This documentation is crucial for post-incident analysis and reporting.
    • Data Management: They manage databases and information systems that track wildfire incidents, resource availability, and response outcomes.
  5. Situational Awareness and Support:
    • Monitoring Conditions: Dispatchers monitor weather conditions, fire behavior, and other factors that could impact firefighting efforts. They provide real-time updates to fire crews to enhance situational awareness.
    • Support Functions: They assist with logistical support, such as arranging for fuel, food, and other supplies needed by firefighting crews in the field.
  6. Coordination with Other Agencies:
    • Interagency Collaboration: Dispatchers coordinate with local, state, and federal agencies, as well as private landowners and other stakeholders involved in wildfire management. They facilitate the sharing of resources and information across jurisdictions.
    • Mutual Aid Requests: They manage requests for mutual aid, ensuring that additional resources are mobilized quickly and efficiently when needed.

Skills and Qualifications

To effectively carry out their responsibilities, Dispatchers typically possess a combination of education, experience, and skills:

  • Educational Background: A high school diploma or equivalent is typically required, with additional training in emergency dispatching, communications, or fire science being advantageous.
  • Experience: Practical experience in dispatching, emergency management, or firefighting is highly beneficial. Many Dispatchers have backgrounds as firefighters or in other emergency services roles.
  • Communication Skills: Strong verbal and written communication skills are essential for relaying information accurately and effectively.
  • Multi-tasking Ability: The ability to handle multiple tasks simultaneously and prioritize under pressure is crucial in a fast-paced emergency environment.
  • Technological Proficiency: Proficiency with communication systems, computer-aided dispatch (CAD) software, and other digital tools is necessary for efficient dispatch operations.
  • Attention to Detail: Accuracy in documentation, resource tracking, and information relay is vital to ensure effective coordination and safety.
  • Interpersonal Skills: The ability to work collaboratively with diverse stakeholders, including fire crews, command centers, and other agencies, is essential.

Common Employers

Dispatchers are employed by various agencies and organizations involved in fire prevention and wildfire management. Some common employers include:

  1. U.S. Forest Service:
    • The U.S. Forest Service is a federal agency that manages national forests and grasslands. Dispatchers within the Forest Service play a key role in coordinating wildfire response efforts across vast public lands.
  2. California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire):
    • CalFire is responsible for fire protection and prevention in California's state forests and privately-owned wildlands. Dispatchers in CalFire handle a high volume of wildfire incidents, especially during peak fire season.
  3. Bureau of Land Management (BLM):
    • The BLM oversees vast tracts of public land across the United States. Dispatchers working for the BLM coordinate wildfire response efforts in some of the nation's most fire-prone regions.
  4. National Park Service (NPS):
    • The NPS manages national parks and monuments, where Dispatchers coordinate the response to wildfires that threaten these protected areas and the visitors within them.
  5. State and Local Fire Departments:
    • Many state and local fire departments employ Dispatchers to manage emergency responses within their jurisdictions. These Dispatchers play a crucial role in coordinating efforts during wildfires and other emergencies.
  6. Private Land Management Companies:
    • Companies that manage large tracts of private land, such as timber companies and ranches, often employ Dispatchers to coordinate wildfire prevention and response efforts on their properties.
  7. Nonprofit Organizations:
    • Nonprofits focused on conservation and wildfire prevention, such as The Nature Conservancy, may hire Dispatchers to assist with managing wildfire incidents and coordinating with other agencies.


Dispatchers are the behind-the-scenes heroes in wildland firefighting, providing critical support to ensure that resources are allocated efficiently and communication remains clear and constant. Through their efforts, they help safeguard communities, natural resources, and ecosystems from the devastating impacts of wildfires. As the threat of wildfires continues to grow, the role of Dispatchers becomes increasingly vital in protecting lives and property, making their contributions indispensable in the fight against wildfires.