Lynnwood Interim Fire Chief among the responders to Oso mudslide

Lynnwood Interim Fire Chief Tod Gates
Lynnwood Interim Fire Chief Tod Gates

By David Pan/Lynnwood Today editor

Like everyone in the Pacific Northwest, Lynnwood Interim Fire Chief Tod Gates’s attention has been on the Oso mudslide and the efforts of the rescue personnel who have been working to save and now retrieve the victims.

But unlike most people, Gates and two other City of Lynnwood employees actually were called in to help in the emergency response as members of the Northwest Washington Incident Management Team (NWIMT).

Gates, Assistant Chief of Operations Gregg Sieloff and Paul McIntyre of the Public Works Department are all members of the NWIMT, a highly trained and experienced group that functions under the National Incident Management System to support the incident management needs of local communities and agencies when requested during major emergency events.

Snohomish County requested the NWIMT to assist in organizing and managing the search and rescue effort for survivors of the mudslide. Gates served as Incident Commander and Deputy Incident Commander. Sieloff was the Deputy Incident Commander and McIntyre was Logistic Section Chief.

Initially, the NWIMT was a partner in the Unified Command with all of the other responding agencies and then the NWIMT was delegated the responsibility of running the operations for four days.

The scope of the Oso landslide was enormous and beyond anything Gates previously experienced.

“That was clearly a career event for almost everybody,” Gates said. “We would hope we would never see it again. The complexity was significant, not just the size.”

The NWIMT helped Snohomish County with the initial set-up and organization of the response and resources.

“We all came collectively away with a sense that the region really pulled together and there was no ego,” Gates said. “It was kind of we needed to do. ‘Let’s get it done and keep the focus on the right priorities.’”

Gates praised the county’s response and in particular John Pennington, the Snohomish County Emergency Management Director.

“The decisions that were made were very thoughtful,” Gates said.

The situation was very stressful for all those involved in the rescue efforts, Gates noted.

“But I think people realized everybody had a part to do,” he said. “The sum of the parts created the whole. What they needed to do, our contributions, our job, all fit together in concert with the Emergency Management Department.”

The Oso landslide wasn’t the first time that Gates and the other members of the NWIMT responded to a high profile incident. The NWIMT was involved in the Skagit River bridge collapse in May 2013.

The images from Oso certainly won’t soon be forgotten and neither will the response from the community.

“It was just sort of awe-inspiring to see how folks came together,” Gates said. “You don’t teach that kind of stuff. To see it in real life and see how many people really came together and to do it in a very coordinated response, the region is well-served.”





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