Great Basin Team 1 Public Information Manager Mary Cernicek shares her experience covering the Cerro Pelado fire

Mary Cernicek, right, during an interview Monday by Los Alamos Daily Post reporter Kirsten Laskey. Photo by Carol A. Clark/

By Kristen Laskey
Los Alamos Daily Message
[email protected]

There is nothing predictable about a forest fire; the Cerro Pelado fire is proof of this. The fire, which was burning more than 43,000 acres Wednesday morning five miles east of Jemez Springs, seven miles west of Los Alamos and just outside the Valles Calera National Preserve, is in constant motion. . It is always changing, evolving and burning.

While the fire never stops, neither does the public’s desire to be informed of his behavior, conditions and status.

To meet this demand, the Type 1 Incident Management Team, Great Basin Team 1, which is dealing with the Cerro Pelado fire, has 16 Public Information Officers stationed in the area. Public Information Officer Mary Cernicek is specifically stationed in Los Alamos.

Cernicek discussed the challenges of giving people information about something that is in a constant state of flux.

“In this information age where everything is so readily available and the demand for instant information is palpable, it is difficult to ensure that the information disseminated is readily available and accurate, Cernicek said.

“It’s a big responsibility to get the latest and best information,” she said.

To meet this challenge, she said public information officers deal with different areas such as social media or managing logistics and organizing public meetings. Cernicek said his favorite category is face-to-face encounters.

“I love it,” she said.

Cernicek said she has worked as a public information officer for Type 1 incident management teams since 2001, but the Cerro Pelado fire is unique to her because it is personal. She explained that she had family who lived in Los Alamos. His family members in town include Mary, Molly and Ann Cernicek, Steve Russell and his niece Tara McDonald.

“This is the first incident where my family is in the middle of the incident,” Cernicek said. “That makes it unique. It hits near my house.

Another new factor is that one of the parties active in the fight against forest fires includes a national laboratory.

“This is my first incident involving a national lab as a cooperative agency,” she said.

Because of her family ties to the area, Cernicek said she was considering what her family and friends in town wanted to know about the fire. Additionally, she said the information posted is based on community feedback and requests.

“The community gives us information about what they want so we can take that and give them what they need,” she said.

One of the most important needs is to make sure people turn to the right sources of information. Cernicek said these include the Facebook page of Cerro Pelado Firehis Twitter account and website. People can also call 505.312.4593 and 303.918.4004 or email [email protected].

Prior to responding to public information needs, Cernicek served as a forest firefighter and structural firefighter. She got her foot in the door as a public information officer because it was determined that she did well on camera. Additionally, Cernicek said she decided to step away from firefighting after she and her husband, David, had their daughter.

During her tenure as a public information officer, Cernicek said she had some pretty memorable experiences. There was the time she took a school group to visit a base camp and gave them all a sample of an MRE (Meal, Ready-to-Eat). Another experiment involved throwing cow manure to pitch a tent in a pasture. A more stressful memory was one morning when she woke up to a herd of wild horses running around. She remembers a COO so loved he got his own bobblehead doll and wondered what a celebrity a friend of his was. No matter where she is stationed, Cernicek said every experience is invaluable.

After all, how many people can say they are working together for the collective good?

“It’s an honor to work with people who put the community first,” said Cernicek.