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NASF Report

Executive Summary


An Overview of Rural and Volunteer Fire Departments

Issues and Recommended Actions



Appendices – Case Studies

NAPA Report

Title Page



Executive Summary

Enhancing Local Firefighting Capacity

Panel Conclusions and Recommendations




The Changing Role and Needs of Local, Rural, and Volunteer Fire Departments in the Wildland-Urban Interface

Executive Summary

Purpose of This Report

Rural, volunteer and other local fire departments are the nation’s first line of defense against fire starts in the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) and surrounding landscapes. The ability of local firefighters to contain a fire incident through quick and efficient initial response can dramatically reduce large-scale wildfire impacts to the public and to the environment.

Therefore, this report:

  • Highlights the changing role and needs of these local firefighting forces with regard to wildland fire.
  • Recommends actions that will improve these local forces’ ability to safely and effectively carry out their roles—particularly in the rapidly growing Wildland-Urban Interface.

Key Item: Assess Training, Equipment, Safety Awareness Relating to WUI

In August 2001, the Ten-Year Comprehensive Strategy for Reducing Wildland Fire Risks to Communities and the Environment was jointly signed by: the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior, the National Association of State Foresters (NASF), the National Association of Counties (NACo), and the InterTribal Timber Council (ITC).

A key action item in this strategy directed the signatories to:

Assess the training, equipment, safety awareness and services provided by rural, volunteer, and other firefighters who work in the Wildland-Urban Interface and report to Congress.

The National Association of State Foresters subsequently convened a representative steering group of local, state, and national firefighting interests to respond to this directive—the first step in creating this report. Core Team members included the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC), the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA); along with the National Association of State Foresters, the National Association of Counties, the USDA Forest Service, and the Department of the Interior (DOI).

The Core Team relied on the 1994 Fire Protection in Rural America (FPIRA) report and the 2002 Needs Assessment of the U.S. Fire Service—developed and analyzed by the U.S. Fire Administration and the National Fire Protection Association—as a foundation for their analysis and recommendations.

Four Critical Issues Identified

First Step: Key Questions

Initially, the Core Team explored the following key questions to help identify and form this report’s four critical issues and their corresponding recommended actions.

  • What is the current role of rural, volunteer, and other local fire departments in fighting wildland fire?
  • What unique challenges are posed by fire suppression in the Wildland-Urban Interface?
  • Are local fire departments able to safely and effectively fulfill these roles?
  • What programs are in place to help local firefighters improve their preparedness for wildland fire?
  • What changes or improvements are needed to increase the fire departments’ preparedness to respond to wildland fire?

These Critical Issues and Actions Warrant Congressional Attention

Issue One: Wildland Fire Training

Fighting fire in the Wildland-Urban Interface demands training and equipment for both structural and wildland situations. Interface incidents also present unique challenges such as community evacuation, hazardous materials response, communication and coordination between multiple jurisdictions, extraordinary values-at-risk, and heightened public and media attention. The following actions will improve the ability of local fire departments to operate safely and effectively in the Wildland-Urban Interface.

   Summary of Recommended Actions

·       Develop training packages designed to meet the needs of rural and volunteer firefighters.

·       Expand the preparation and use of locally-based trainers.

·       Improve the reciprocity between structural and wildland training standards.

Issue Two: Efficient Interagency Response

Fire suppression in the Wildland-Urban Interface is particularly reliant on a multi-jurisdictional partnership between local, state, and federal forces. When even one member of this partnership fails or is unable to coordinate their response actions, significant and unacceptable losses may occur.

   Summary of Recommended Actions

·       Develop a clear and consistent policy regarding the incorporation of local fire personnel into extended attack and large fire situations—both within and outside their jurisdiction.

·       Improve and expand fire management plans and mutual aid agreements to clarify the division of suppression responsibilities prior to an actual fire incident.

Issue Three: Initial Attack and Emergency Communications Capability

The ability of all fire responders to communicate with each other is a critical component of interagency fire management. Radio compatibility is central to this communication challenge. A multitude of emergency communication systems are currently in use. This situation leads to conflicts of frequency interference and lack of interoperability.

   Summary of Recommended Actions

·       Ensure that federal and state training and financial assistance programs for local fire departments prioritize efforts that facilitate interoperability or reduce opportunities for communications conflicts. If this does not occur, coordinated initial and extended attack efforts will be less effective and more dangerous.

Issue Four: Coordinated Federal and State Assistance

Studies of the U.S. fire service continue to show that rural fire departments are poorly funded for the breadth of their responsibilities. Although technical and financial assistance programs for local fire departments exist at both the federal and state levels, very few resources are focused on addressing the specific needs of rural and volunteer firefighters.

   Summary of Recommended Actions

·       Maximize available funding by streamlining application processes and reducing duplication between existing programs.

·       Establish and maintain a more effective level of funding to ultimately address the unique situations faced by rural and volunteer firefighters operating in the wildland arena.

Tremendous Returns:
Improved Protection and Effective Suppression Response

Enhanced firefighting preparedness and increased interagency coordination at the local level will ultimately improve the effectiveness of all wildland firefighting efforts. A tax dollar invested in improving local firefighting resources can result in a tremendous return through:

·       Improved public and firefighter safety.

·       Decreased community disruption and economic losses.

·       Reduced need for large-scale suppression and post-fire rehabilitation.

The critical issues and recommended actions—detailed in this report—outline a strategy through which Congress and the nation’s leading firefighting organizations can facilitate the improved wildland fire preparedness of local responders across the country.

Congress—along with other elected officials and the leaders of state and federal wildland fire agencies—should act in a timely manner to carry out this report’s recommendations. In doing so, they will successfully achieve the desired outcomes of both the and Ten-Year Comprehensive Strategy and the National Fire Plan:

·       Healthier watersheds.

·       Healthier communities.

·       Diminished risk and consequences of severe wildland fires.


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