Radio Cache

National Interagency Incident Communications Division

Picture a wildfire in your mind. What comes to mind first may be a large airtanker dropping retardant at a flaming front; smokejumpers bailing out from a jump ship; or firefighters cutting fireline. 

No matter the activity, virtually all wildland firefighter activities rely on a single common denominator. They all have a pressing need to communicate. Reliable communication can make the difference between triumph and tragedy. 

Walk into the National Interagency Incident Communications Division (NIICD) and your first impression might be that you’ve taken a step back in time. A mini-museum of older radio equipment is displayed at the entrance, along with historical photos of past fires. Step around a corner and you’ll see a wall of old-school t-cards used for tracking the location of the communications equipment. 

Look beyond the surface, though, and you’ll find a state-of-the-art communications system that provides a critical link between safety and firefighting efficiency. NIICD, often simply called “the radio cache,” manages about $25 million worth of communications equipment, and is thought to be the largest civilian radio cache in the world. NIICD has an Engineering and Development Office to provide the best possible communications systems and remote sensing design. The numbers are impressive: NIICD has about 11,000 handheld, portable radios; 300 repeaters; and other equipment, such as satellite communications systems. NIICD’s radio cache can support 32,000 firefighters on up to 53 major wildfires at a time. 

As with several other National Interagency Fire Center programs, the radio cache supplies communication equipment for other natural disasters or emergencies. NIICD’s radio cache has also supplied gear for the Summer, Winter and Special Olympics! 

No matter the use, each time a radio or other piece of equipment is returned it is meticulously cleaned, reprogrammed, tested and repaired as needed by technicians. Then, it’s on to the next incident. Radio systems can be processed and sent back out within two to four hours of being returned. In an average year, the radio cache processes 23,000 handheld radios. 
NIICD also has an Avionics Division, which provides safe and effective aircraft electronic communications systems. Technicians annually inspect avionics on large airtankers and heavy helicopters for contract compliance. They also maintain avionics on USFS infrared aircraft. NIICD also offers communications maintenance, supply and technical training.

The need for communication during a natural disaster is crucial for protecting life, property and natural resources. The work at NIICD ensures that communication is fast, clear and reliable.

NIFC Virtual Tour: National Interagency Incident Communications Division