The Changing Role and Needs of Local, Rural, and Volunteer Fire Departments in the Wildland-Urban Interface
Local Fire Departments Perform Critical Role
According to the National Fire Protection Association, there are more than one million active firefighters serving in local  fire departments across the nation. A significant portion of this community-based protection is provided by more than 24,000 rural fire departments with over 658,000 volunteer firefighters. This contrasts to the less than 16,000 full-time and seasonal wildland firefighters employed by the federal agencies.
Often completely volunteer, these local resources are frequently the first to respond to a fire start in both wildland and Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) areas. Their ability to quickly take action allows them to efficiently contain or suppress a fire and can prevent the fire from:
Federal wildland fire organizations estimate that—working cooperatively through initial response—firefighters successfully contain up to 98 percent of wildland fire starts at less than 300 acres. 
The remaining two percent of wildfire incidents:
National Fire Plan Responds to Dramatic Fire Season
After the dramatic 2000 wildfire season, then-President Clinton directed the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior to develop a plan to address the wildland fire and hazardous fuels situation, as well as the need for habitat restoration and rehabilitation across the nation. The resulting documents and associated Congressional language and appropriations (FY 2001 Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act [P.L. 106-291]), are commonly referred to as the National Fire Plan (NFP).
In addition to supporting this national plan, Congress further directed the federal agencies to develop the Ten-Year Comprehensive Strategy for Reducing Wildland Fire Risks to Communities and the Environment by working in full partnership with state, tribal, and local governments—in collaboration with citizens and stakeholders at all levels.
To accomplish this, the Western Governors’ Association (WGA) convened a national, geographically diverse group representing all levels of government, tribal interests, conservation and commodity organizations, and community-based restoration groups.
The Ten-Year Comprehensive Strategy, finalized in August 2001, included four primary goals:
To more clearly define these goals and to identify specific actions and performance measures, a subsequent Implementation Plan was developed and released in May 2002.
Local Fire Departments Recognized
The authors of the Ten-Year Comprehensive Strategy and its Implementation Plan recognized the importance of local fire departments in achieving Goal One: Improve Fire Prevention and Suppression. Thus, a specific Implementation Task under this Goal directs federal, state, and local fire organizations to:
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).
 Throughout this report “local” refers to entities working under the jurisdiction of a town, city, county, or other level of local government.
National Interagency Coordination Center (NICC) 2002 statistics.
Although it could not be completed in time for this report, NASF is also conducting a comprehensive survey of local fire departments in each state, using a recent Texas survey as a model. The results of this nationwide effort are expected in July 2004 and should provide much needed detail to the issues highlighted here.
Page 42 in the 2002 Needs Assessment of the U.S. Fire Service.
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