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Early wildland fire and wildland/urban interface (W/UI) fire season predictions for the year 2000 were ominous and warned of an active and possibly disastrous period in this country's fire history annals. There was talk of droughts and global warming. Scattered locations throughout the country were experiencing an early spate of fires and the average numbers were already well beyond the normal statistics of past years.
Photo by Robert M. Winston
This home became a total loss during a wildland/urban interface (W/UI) fire in Massachusetts.
As of mid-spring, wildland fire agency officials were reportedly having difficulties filling wildland firefighter positions in areas of the country where traditionally this was not a problem. This situation was due in part to high rates of retirements of experienced fire personnel; budget cutting; more lucrative and less dangerous alternative employment opportunities; and the difficulties of passing the physical testing known as the "Pack Test."
The question of just how well prepared wildland fire agencies and structural fire agencies were to handle this year's fire season was a matter of concern among some, if not many, of the nation's fire managers. And naturally, the weather is always a major deciding factor in any fire season's outcome.
However, many wildland fire agencies and some structural fire services that frequently respond to wildland and W/UI fires were preparing for the inevitable battles that were sure to come during this fire season. Private firefighting contractors were equally hard at work in preparation to meet the coming demands of fire suppression this year.
The Washington/Oregon Interface Qualifications System (WOIQS)
In the Northwest, as in much of the U.S., a severe wildfire season can become almost routine, depending on drought severity and the weather. Rural developmental growth has caused structural fire services to become directly involved with wildland and W/UI fires in a large way.
Photo by Robert M. Winston
This Plymouth, MA, fire crew operates its tanker (tender)/pumper to provide structural protection. The fire is approaching from the rear and this home was successfully protected.
In recognizing these problems and after the serious fire season of 1994, regulatory bodies in both states began to address the minimum standards for structural firefighters involved in interface fire incidents. An interstate work group was established to develop a plan of action. It needed to recognize the role of the interface firefighter. This was accomplished through a job task analysis from basic firefighter up to division supervisor. The WOIQS was the tool required to accomplish the goals and objectives.
Excerpts of the system overview of the WOIQS: Fire personnel from different agencies will operate together more safely and effectively on interface fire incidents. Qualifications are specific to training, demonstrated skills, and knowledge and experience. The WOIQS is designed to provide both structural and wildland firefighters common ground for measuring experiences and training as it pertains to Interface fire protection. The WOIQS draws upon the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) training courses and Task Book requirements for additional qualifications for engine officer, task force/strike team leader, and division/group supervisor.
Initial implementation of the WOIQS will require a historical recognition process designed to credit prior training and experience, or grandfathering. This gives firefighters a strong base to become certified interface firefighters because of years of experience and training. This requires an application process for recognition, evaluation and documentation.
The different levels are firefighter, company officer, strike team/task force leader, structure protection specialist, division supervisor and general staff. Each level consists of training courses that fit the specific position.