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Grass, brush, forest or a mix of this vegetation covers over 80% of the land area within Massachusetts. At certain times of the year and depending on weather conditions, wildfires are numerous and can become a direct threat to lives and property.
Photo by Robert M. Winston
The newest "brush breaker" operated by the MBFFC is carries 750 gallons of water and a class A foam injection system. It is stationed at the Myles Standish State Forest in Carver, MA.
As areas of Massachusetts became densely populated in the 1950s, more and more people began to move from these crowded locations to seek a better quality of life closer to nature. This population shift created many additional structural wildland interzone (SWI) areas throughout the state. Wildfire and SWI fire prevention and suppression operations became a significant concern to both the structural fire services and the Massachusetts Bureau of Forest Fire Control (MBFFC).
It was in 1911 that the MBFFC was established and it has been providing aid and assistance in the form of fire prevention and education, fire detection and suppression to the cities and towns of Massachusetts. In 1919, the bureau was called the Department of Conservation (DOC). In 1953, it was reorganized and named the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The bureau is a branch of the Division of Forests & Parks under what is now called the Department of Environmental Management (DEM). The MBFFC helps to protect 3.5 million acres of state, public and private wildlands and over 100,000 acres of municipal drinking-water reservoirs in the state.
Photo by Robert M. Winston
MBFFC wildland firefighters demonstrate the use of class A foam. Many of the bureau's firefighting vehicles are equipped with foam systems.
The bureau is an active participant with all city and town structural fire departments, responding to their aid during wildland and SWI fire incidents. It also works with county and local fire wardens, foresters, law enforcement agencies, and county and statewide civil defense and mutual aid organizations. The bureau also cooperates closely with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, Massachusetts Army Air National Guard, Massachusetts Fire Training Academy, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), U.S.D.A. Forest Service, Northeast Forest Fire Protection Commission, and many other governmental and private agencies.
There are presently 123 positions (authorized for 131) in the MBFFC. Of these, 60 are year-round and 63 are seasonal. The bureau's commander is Chief Fire Warden Michael W. Tirrell, who also is an active participant in several facets of emergency service work where he resides in the small western Massachusetts town of Windsor. This includes being a member of the volunteer fire department for 34 years, serving as lieutenant, captain and training officer (he also has been the town's police chief since 1986). Tirrell was elected to the executive board of the Northeast Forest Fire Supervisors; is liaison from DEM to the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency; and serves on the operations committee of the Northeast Forest Fire Protection Commission.
Since his appointment in March 1997, Tirrell has developed a strategic plan to upgrade the MBFFC. This plan includes:
- Prevention. Expansion of the "Smokey (the) Bear" program, more prescribed burning as a fuels management tool and use of a 45-foot fire prevention trailer.
- Detection. Reconstruction of some fire lookout tower cabins and construction of new fire lookout towers.
- Pre-suppression and suppression. Increasing prescribed fire use for fuel reduction and the purchasing of new "brush breakers," tankers/ tenders, slip-on units and command vehicles.
- Communications. A new radio console at Mount Wachusetts State Reservation and a website to be linked to local, state and federal agencies.