Local Firefighting Capacity
Conclusions and Recommendations
An Overview of Rural and
Volunteer Fire Departments
Issues and Recommended Actions
Appendices – Case Studies
WILDLAND FIRE COSTS:
UTILIZING LOCAL FIREFIGHTING FORCES
PANEL CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
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
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:
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
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:
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
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.