State Forester: Poor technology, lack of training in wildfire response

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GATLINBUG, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Wednesday, Local 8 News obtained hundreds of documents, pictures, video, and hotel receipts - from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, concerning actions taken to fight off the wildfires.

Employees were asked to conduct "After Action Reviews," addressing what was planned, what happened, why it happened, and what could improve.

Several employees mentioned that a lack of training in key positions caused issues throughout the wildfires.

Supervisors acknowledged that poor technology hindered logistics and efficiency.

Safety for firefighters was also mentioned. Many responders were on-the go for hours causing firefighters' fatigue.

The Tennessee Division of Forestry held a news conference Wednesday afternoon saying it would updated technology and increase training.

Jere Jeter with the Division of Forestry says, "We're increasing the training. We had old technology, so we are going from flip phones to smart phones."

The documents say many of the people fighting the fire needed more training. Officials addressed that in the press conference, "Some of our employees need more training. That is because a lot of them have other full time jobs. We're going to see that they get the training they need."

Communication was a big problem, according to the documents. Jere Jeter said, "Communication is key. It can be life saving. I can tell you before Gatlinburg we'd not had any serious injuries prior to Gatlinburg. It was such a firestorm out of the norm. It just created a situation that unfortunately took some lives."

Forestry officials would not comment on the city's timing of evacuation.