Coffee Break Bulletin

Who are you going to call? The National Wildfire Response System

Posted: Sept. 12, 2017

This Coffee Break Bulletin explains how the National Wildfire Response System supports local communities with resources during major wildfires.

plane dropping fire retardant on a wildfire

We have all watched the large wildland fires on the news. The hills are blazing, homes burned to the ground. So the big question for the line firefighter is “How do you handle such events?”

For the majority of the United States, we are fortunate. Wildland urban interface fires, forest fires, and brush fires are normally small and can be contained within a day or two.

For some places in the country, this is not true. We all know about the major, multiweek long fires that become a campaign with tons of resources, support, firefighters and risks. How does the nation handle such events?

Three tiers of support

Wildfire suppression is a three-tiered system of support — the local level, the geographic area, and finally the national level at the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC).


When a fire happens, the local agency and its firefighting partners respond. Over 90 percent of the wildfire responses in the country are successful at this level, and there is no need for further support from the geographic area or national level.

Geographic area

If a fire escapes the local response and continues to grow, the agency can ask for help from its geographic area. They have access to resources like air tankers, radios, firefighting crews, and Incident Management Teams from all the agencies located within that geographic area.


When the geographic area runs out of resources, it next turns to NIFC’s National Interagency Coordination Center (NICC) located in Boise, Idaho. The NICC has the responsibility to maintain a national view picture, to analyze national priorities among the geographic areas, and to determine the flow of resources to and from regions in support of significant incidents.

The National Multiagency Coordinating (NMCA) Group

When the national situation becomes severe, the NMCA Group is activated. The NMCA Group is located at the NIFC, oversees the NICC’s activities, and sets priorities for allocation of resources among the geographic areas.

The NMCA Group is composed of the:

The ability of agencies at the NIFC to activate and coordinate resources with a broad range of capabilities also supports more than just wildfire response. Often they support natural disasters and emergencies, in conjunction with the FEMA.

Action step for learning more about how our nation responds to wildland fires

Visit the NIFC’s website to learn more about the NICC’s activities, including intelligence and predictive services that support the wildland fire community with incident management decision-making.

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