Jeanne Dower, an A’viands (BHSU Dining Services) staff member, prepares lunches for the more than 600 firefighters who were working to contain the Crow Peak Fire near Spearfish.
Crews gather for a 6 a.m. Crow Peak Fire briefing outside Meier Hall on the Black Hills State University campus. BHSU served as the firefighting command center that housed and fed more than 600 people as firefighters battled the blaze.
For nearly two weeks this summer while a forest fire burned on nearby Crow Peak, the Black Hills State University campus served as a firefighting command center that housed and fed more than 600 people as firefighters moved into the area to battle the blaze.
The fire, caused by a lightning strike Friday, June 24, was in a remote area with steep terrain resulting in a Type 2 incident.
The BHSU campus, which has previously been utilized as a Red Cross evacuee site and provided lodging for firefighters, responded quickly.
“Our priorities were to do everything we could to help the firefighters and the Spearfish community,” said BHSU President Dr. Tom Jackson, Jr.
With smoke and flames on Crow Peak clearly visible on campus and throughout the Spearfish region, decisions were made quickly and the campus evolved as the command center for firefighter personnel as well as provided housing and food, a central receiving point for supplies, and the location for a multi-agency daily briefing.
BHSU staff members met with fire personnel to discuss the use of classrooms as office space, where vehicles and supplies should be located and the dietary needs of the firefighters along with many other details.
“Everyone at BHSU felt like it was our duty to do whatever we could to provide the best possible service,” said Dr. Michael Isaacson, assistant to the vice president of enrollment and student affairs, said. “We talked about what we could offer at BHSU and within an hour things were beginning to roll.”
The University relied on their emergency response plan and quickly identified the BHSU Crisis Response Team which included President Jackson and personnel from key areas on campus.
“It was an emergency situation, but it wasn’t chaos. It was organized, well thought out, and all entities worked very well together,” said Isaacson.
Firefighting central command was set up on the third floor of Jonas Hall, providing the space needed for specialized control of access, a lecture hall for briefings, and six classrooms for different functional areas. Technology and security needs were identified and met. A supply center was set up in the Jonas parking lot. Additional firefighters and personnel continued to arrive.
BHSU Campus Security Officer Phil Pesheck attended the fire command’s briefings and relayed that information to the BHSU Crisis Response Team on a daily basis, including July 4th and on the weekends. A campus-wide newsletter update was emailed to faculty and staff daily to keep them apprised of the situation.
With summer conferences and camps winding down at BHSU, Ron Showman, Food Service Director for A’viands at BHSU, was operating with one third of his normal staff, anticipating a quiet July before students returned in the fall. Showman and his staff of 22 willingly took on the challenge of feeding the influx of firefighters and personnel on campus.
A’viands served 10,595 meals and worked 2,400 hours over 13 days. Complexities of feeding firefighters included early and late eating times, rapidly changing meal numbers, special dietary needs, and detailed lunch requirements. In addition to the meals served on campus, sack lunches were prepared for up to 600 people.
“We went from 50 people on campus to 500 in less than two days,” said Showman. “We were waking up at 4 a.m. and going to bed at 10:30 p.m. We made it happen and the staff at BHSU rose to the occasion.”
But staffing was a minor obstacle compared with the influx of food needed to feed hungry, hardworking firefighters. BHSU typically has a three-day supply of food, and had enough food available as crews began arriving over the weekend. When the fire’s incident type was upgraded, food trucks arrived each morning to meet the high protein, carbohydrate, and caloric needs of Forest Service personnel.
Firefighters remarked that the food served was some of the best they had eaten on fires in over 20 years. They also commented on the friendly and personable staff always willing to go the extra mile to ensure a quality dining experience.
“I’m proud of all of the staff at BHSU who responded so quickly and efficiently. It was an honor and a privilege for us to serve our community in this way,” Jackson said. “Every day when we look around at our beautiful surroundings, it’s a huge relief not see smoke billowing from Crow Peak. We thank the firefighters for their dedication and hard work.”