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NAPA Report

Title Page



Executive Summary

Enhancing Local Firefighting Capacity

Panel Conclusions and Recommendations



NASF Report

Executive Summary


An Overview of Rural and Volunteer Fire Departments

Issues and Recommended Actions



Appendices Case Studies





Based on the research and workshop information cited above, the Panel believes that three new initiatives are needed to most appropriately take advantage of local firefighting forces in suppressing wildfires. These initiatives are designed to (1) train and qualify local firefighters for leadership and other roles in wildfire suppression, (2) provide means for more fully utilizing local forces, and (3) making federal aid more easily available to local fire departments.

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. Teams could be staffed with federal, state, and local firefighters who do not feel they can commit to out-of-area assignments. In addition, qualifying local firefighters to serve in crew and other capacities under federal teams would yield similar benefits.

But 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. For example, local firefighters are often unable to qualify for these teams and other roles because they do not have access to the required wildfire training and/or are unable to meet NWCG standards. In many cases, some local firefighters could meet NWCG standards if training were more widely available. In other cases, they could qualify if NFPA standards were recognized as sufficient for local firefighters. The nation needs to develop a better way of tapping these local resources without, of course, compromising firefighter safety or effectiveness.

The Panel recommends, therefore, that the Wildland Fire Leadership Council:

  • Establish mechanisms to ensure that wildland fire training opportunities are provided equitably to all local fire departments in a state, both those adjacent to and those not adjacent to federal lands. The Panel believes that a relatively small investment in training and qualifying local firefighters to serve on local Type 3 teams and in other capacities—sustained from year to year—would yield immense returns in wildfire suppression by improving firefighter safety, increasing firefighting effectiveness, and reducing suppression costs.

  • Work with appropriate officials at the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that money available for upgrading communications technologies for first responders include all federal, state, tribal, and local firefighters responsible for suppressing wildfires. The Panel urges that these funds be used to purchase equipment that allows firefighters responding to an incident to fully communicate with one another through interoperable systems.
  • Establish a multi-party task force consisting of NWCG, NASF, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the U.S. Fire Administration, the International Association of Firefighters, the National Volunteer Fire Council, and NFPA to make specific proposals on how to more fully utilize local resources. The task force should submit a report to WFLC before the start of the 2005 fire season. At a minimum, the report should address the following issues:
    • Determine what overlap exists in the fire curriculums of NWCG and NFPA and recommend how local firefighters could receive “transfer credit” for this overlap.
    • 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. For upper level training, the Fire Academy-style training (based on Florida’s Prescribed Fire Academy) should be considered because it combines both classroom and practical experience in a single package and leads to certification within a condensed time-period.
    • Develop a national strategy for identifying and developing instructors at the state and local levels 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

The Panel recommends, further, that elected officials and senior administrators in local governments be actively engaged in increasing training opportunities and promoting the development of local Type 3 incident management teams. Without strong local leadership at these high levels, the needed resources to support mobilization of local forces will be much less likely to be made available. To support this recommendation, the Panel also recommends that the International City/County Management Association, the National Association of Counties, and the National League of Cities take appropriate steps to inform their members of this need for active leadership.

Integrate Firefighting Forces into Wildfire Response

The Panel believes that local, state, and national suppression responses can be enhanced significantly by greater utilization of properly trained and equipped local fire departments. An effective local department can independently, or in cooperation with others, 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. As local fire engines sit idle—for lack of training and coordination—federal agencies too often use more costly resources: contract engines and crews, resources from other states, National Guard resources, active duty battalions, and firefighters from other nations. At the same time, federal engines are frequently moved long distances—with considerable time delays and costs—when local engines could respond much faster, at less cost. Even with the more costly resources mentioned above, the nation has a critical shortage of resources during difficult fire seasons.

The Panel recommends, therefore, that the Wildland Fire Leadership Council establish specific guidance to their agencies for more fully utilizing local firefighting resources. The goal of this guidance should be to ensure that:

  • Federal and state mutual-aid agreements are as consistent as statutory requirements allow.
  • Annual operating plans are comprehensive and complete. These plans should cover such topics as integrated command, joint dispatch, annual joint training exercises, and cost reimbursements. They should also consider how best to use volunteer firefighters by thinking strategically about how much time they have available to fight wildfires, receive training, and participate in exercises.
  • The pay issues currently causing problems in the field are resolved as much as possible. Currently, jurisdictions differ widely in their use of administratively determined rates for paid fire departments, payments for backfill positions, reimbursements for portal-to-portal pay, and means of funding the joint fire exercises recommended in annual operating plans.
  • Equitable cost-sharing agreements between the federal, state, and local governments are established that ensure costs are shared proportionately based on jurisdictional responsibilities and values protected.
  • Federal fire managers in the field are required to fully coordinate with state and local fire departments on all phases of wildland fire suppression.
  • Workshops on federal-local cooperation are offered in each of the eleven Geographic Area Coordinating Groups.
  • Mechanisms for checking in all available firefighting resources, and ensuring accountability for their use, are clearly established and monitored over time.

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. The Council should also consider other options, such as those presented in the NASF report to pay stipends to local government trainers and to compensate volunteer firefighters for their time spent in training. Incentives to encourage training should be a shared responsibility of federal and local governments, and both should contribute.

Facilitate Federal Aid to Local Wildfire Response Forces

The Panel believes that federal fire grants have been a vital source of support for local fire departments, but applicants and recipients have experienced difficulties with grant administration. 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 to become more reliable, more accessible, and less burdensome to states and communities. Assistance to local fire departments might work in conjunction with the mitigation funds addressed in the Panel’s January 2004 report, Containing Wildland Fire Costs: Enhancing Hazard Mitigation Capacity. Among other things, this report develops a strategy to promote the development of one-stop shops and widespread adoption of electronic grants. The Panel envisions one-stop websites that include a comprehensive list of all related federal-aid and state-aid programs; detailed program descriptions; electronic application capability; an electronic checklist for applicants to effectively and efficiently determine their eligibility for each program; a single application for grants with the same purpose; and information on how to obtain grant-writing assistance. At the same time, provisions will be included for alternative means of access to federal aid for applicants who are unable to use electronic means. Because of the large cost and complexity of ensuring widespread interoperability among electronic communications systems for local and other wildfire suppression forces, joint efforts may be required by the land management agencies; the Department of Homeland Security; and the leadership of state, local, and tribal governments.

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