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NAPA Report

Title Page

Forward

Acronyms

Executive Summary

Enhancing Local Firefighting Capacity

Panel Conclusions and Recommendations

Epilogue

Appendices

NASF Report

Executive Summary

Introduction

An Overview of Rural and Volunteer Fire Departments

Issues and Recommended Actions

Conclusion

Acknowledgements

Appendices Case Studies

 

CONTAINING WILDLAND FIRE COSTS:
UTILIZING LOCAL FIREFIGHTING FORCES

 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

After examining all the factors influencing the costs of wildfire suppression in its September 2002 report, Wildfire Suppression: Strategies for Containing Costs, the Academy’s Wildfire Panel found that one of the few opportunities to reduce suppression costs during a fire was to make better use of local firefighters. When properly trained, these forces can be used more fully for initial action and extended attack, for mop-up and emergency rehabilitation, and for smoothing transitions between management teams.

Yet the 2002 study revealed that, in more cases than not, local resources were not being effectively used to fight wildfires when they came under federal control. It also showed that firefighting could be organized more effectively and efficiently. All too often, local firefighters were not federally qualified or recognized, so Type 1 and Type 2 Incident Management Teams used on large fires rejected them. Some local forces were not willing to participate in unified commands. Local dispatch centers were not always linked to state and federal dispatch centers, and communications were not interoperable.

The result was increased suppression costs.

When local forces were federally trained and qualified, as well as willing and able to operate with and as part of unified commands, wildfire suppression activities were more effective and efficient.

The result was decreased suppression costs.

The Panel believes that developing dedicated Type 3 teams and using local firefighters more extensively could reduce costs in a variety of ways:

  • They can prevent wildfires from spreading to state or federal jurisdictions through an effective initial attack.
  • Type 3 teams can take command; coordinate an effective initial attack; order necessary resources; and provide for safety through increased supervision, command, and control during the initial action. This makes the wildfire more manageable for Type 1 and/or 2 teams, if they must be sent to fight the wildfire, by facilitating finance and check-in, establishing an effective firefighting strategy, and minimizing delays in resource acquisition—ultimately reducing the costs of fire suppression.
  • By using local forces and equipment, federal agencies do not have to bring in more costly outside resources, and federal engines do not have to be moved long distances.
  • Local forces can provide wildfire protection services to small federal land units that do not have dedicated federal firefighting resources

In recognition of these potential cost savings, and their ability to increase the safety of fire personnel and affected communities, the Panel developed a proposal this year to encourage:

  • Fully qualified and recognized local firefighting forces to operate under the National Incident Management System’s unified command for large wildfires
  • Development of at least one fully qualified Type 3 Incident Management Team in each wildfire-prone community area committed to being available to manage local fires even during periods of maximum draw-down of national resources
  • Development of a local interagency fire operations plan in each wildfire-prone community to ensure fully coordinated fire prevention, fire training, exercises, dispatching, initial action and extended attack, mutual aid, cost sharing, and other activities.

To receive feedback on this proposal, the Panel held day-and-a-half workshops in the spring and summer of 2003 in four communities: Flagstaff, Arizona; Boulder, Colorado; Bend, Oregon; and Palm Coast, Florida. Based on the workshop findings and additional background research, the Panel makes the following findings and recommendations on ways to increase the availability of local firefighting forces for wildfires, integrate local firefighting resources into wildfire suppression activities, and facilitate federal aid to local fire departments.

As the Panel completed its workshops, a National Association of State Foresters (NASF) Steering Group[1] submitted a report to Congress, The Changing Role of Local, Rural, and Volunteer Fire Departments in the Wildland-Urban Interface: Recommended Actions for Implementing the 10-Year Comprehensive Strategy. The Panel believes that its vision and recommendations are consistent with the NASF Steering Group report.

Increase Availability of Local Firefighting Forces for Wildfires

The Panel believes that developing local Type 3 Incident Management Teams in wildfire-prone communities not only would enhance firefighting preparedness and response, but would also reduce the costs of suppressing large wildfires. In addition, qualifying local firefighters to serve in crew and other capacities under Type 1 and 2 federal teams would have similar benefits. However, a significant amount of local resources will be necessary to establish these Type 3 teams and qualify local firefighters for use on federally administered fires, and these resources are currently unavailable in many places. Local firefighters are often unable to qualify because they do not have access to wildfire training and are unable to meet standards established by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG). The nation needs a better way of tapping these local resources without, of course, compromising firefighter safety or effectiveness.

The urgency of taking such action was highlighted in the fall of 2003 when 125 ignitions caused nine massive wildfires in Southern California as the Panel was nearing completion of this report. Those fires caused the loss of 22 lives, over 3,500 buildings, and other properties. No place in the United States illustrates the introduction of human development into wildfire-prone landscapes more than Southern California. But this is a growing challenge throughout the West and in other parts of the nation.

Action to reduce wildfire hazards are addressed in another report by this Panel, to be released in January 2004, but actions to more fully utilize local firefighting resources to control wildfires is equally urgent.

In order to increase the availability of local firefighting forces, the Panel recommends that the Wildland Fire Leadership Council (WFLC):

  • Establish an intergovernmental task force representing the National Wildfire Coordinating Group, National Association of State Foresters (NASF), the International Association of Fire Chiefs, International Association of Firefighters, National Volunteer Fire Council, and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) to make specific proposals on how to more fully qualify and utilize local resources. The task force should:
    • Determine how local firefighters could receive “transfer credit” for the overlap between the fire curriculums of NWCG and NFPA
    • Recommend ways to make training more easily and inexpensively available to paid and volunteer local firefighters through such options as community colleges, Internet courses, video conferencing, evening and weekend training options, repackaging NWCG courses into three- and four-hour blocks, and hands-on training and field exercises
    • Develop a strategy for identifying and developing instructors at the state and local level who could provide wildland fire training
    • Recommend national standards that allow more local resources to be used on Type 3 teams and in support of wildfires led by federal teams, perhaps through some variant of NFPA standards, such as the recognition of NFPA 1051 Standard positions as equivalent to NWCG wildland fire positions
    • Incorporate the information gathered by the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center regarding past firefighter deaths, injuries, and close calls in order to ensure that firefighter safety is fully protected
    • Recommend a section to the Interagency Standards for Fire and Aviation Operations (ISFAO) and the Bureau of Indian Affair’s ISFAO that (1) addresses the use of local fire departments for mutual aid and large fire support and (2) clarifies qualification, fitness, and medical standards
    • Work through the budget and appropriations processes to ensure that adequate resources are provided for supporting wildfire training for local firefighters. The Panel believes that a relatively small investment in training—sustained from year to year—would yield immense returns in containing wildfire suppression costs.
    • Work with appropriate officials at the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that money available for upgrading communications technologies for first responders includes all federal, state and local firefighters responsible for suppressing wildfires. The Panel urges that these funds be used to purchase equipment that allows wildland firefighters to fully communicate with one another and other first responders through interoperable systems.

In addition, the Panel recommends that elected officials and senior administrators in local governments be actively engaged in increasing training opportunities and promoting the development of local Type 3 teams. Without strong local leadership at these high levels, the needed utilization of local forces will be much less likely to occur.

Integrate Local Firefighting Forces into Wildfire Response

Making greater use of properly trained and equipped local fire departments can save money. An effective local department should be prepared to act alone and in cooperation with others to suppress fires before they spread to state or federal jurisdictions; attack and contain fires on adjacent state and federal land, often before state and federal forces arrive; and provide much needed assistance on large state and federal wildfires. Too often, local fire engines sit idle—because of lack of training, qualification, and coordination—while federal agencies bring in more costly resources such as contract engines and crews, firefighters from other states and nations, National Guard resources, and active duty military battalions. At the same time, federal engines are frequently moved long distances—with considerable delays and costs—when local engines could respond much faster and less expensively. Even utilizing the more costly resources mentioned above, the nation has a critical shortage of resources during severe fire seasons.

In order to integrate local forces into wildfire fighting more fully, the Panel recommends that the Wildland Fire Leadership Council establish specific guidance for more fully utilizing local firefighting resources. The guidance should address local, state, and federal mutual-aid agreements to obtain as much consistency as statutory requirements allow; provide sample annual operating plans that are comprehensive and complete; resolve the pay issues currently causing problems in the field; establish equitable cost-share arrangements that share suppression costs proportionately based on jurisdictional responsibilities and values protected; require federal fire managers in the field to fully coordinate with state and local fire departments on all phases of wildland fire suppression; and establish a schedule for sponsoring at least one workshop on federal-local cooperation each year in each of the 11 Geographic Area Coordinating Group areas.

In addition, the Panel recommends that the Council develop a comprehensive strategy to provide incentives for local firefighters to become qualified to participate in federally managed wildfires. The Panel believes that increasing access to wildland fire training by reducing current barriers, as recommended in this report, would provide a significant incentive.

Facilitate Federal Aid to Local Wildfire Response Forces

Federal fire grants have been a vital source of support for local fire departments, but significant difficulties have arisen with grant administration. The level of federal aid they receive is unpredictable from year to year; small departments are especially hard-pressed to access and utilize the grant system; and program guidance is often too rigid, resulting in a lack of flexibility for grant recipients.

The Panel believes that the current federal-aid system supporting wildfire programs—not just grants to local fire departments, but all the grants available for fuels reduction, fire planning, communities-at-risk, training, equipment, and so on—needs significant improvement in order to become more accessible and helpful to states and communities. The Panel’s recommendation to respond to those needs will be published in the January 2004 report, Containing Wildland Fire Costs: Enhancing Hazard Mitigation Capacity. Among other things, the strategy will promote the development of one-stop shops and wide use of electronic grants, while still permitting access by low-income rural communities. At the same time, provisions will be included for alternative means of access to federal aid by applicants unable to use electronic means.


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