Massachusetts Bureau Of Forest Fire Control

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...


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This far-reaching plan also encompasses further expansion of the role of the bureau in the areas of the Federal Excess Property Program, grants programs and air operations with the Massachusetts Army Air National Guard and the Massachusetts State Police for fire suppression operations.

"The bureau's mission has increased over the years," Tirrell said. "I and my staff are working to bring this agency to the forefront in wildland fire prevention and suppression."

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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.

Thirteen district fire wardens, 15 patrolmen, and a number of permanent and seasonal truckmen/firefighters staff 13 fire districts in five fire regions across the state. The MBFFC operates about 55 mobile wildland fire suppression vehicles, including four large brush breakers and one crew bus. Command vehicles are four-wheel-drive units.

Under the chief fire warden, the bureau operates as a committee-based organization. The district fire wardens and the patrolmen are assigned to specific committees, i.e., Rural Community Fire Protection, Federal Excess Property, Weather Monitoring, Communications, Equipment, Fire Detection, Training, Law Enforcement and others.

Fire Prevention

In 1926, the MBFFC began a system of prevention and preparedness programs. One such program is the Rural Fire Prevention & Control Program (RFP&C); via this program the bureau conducts many educational sessions devoted to increasing the public's awareness of fire prevention and the hazards of wildland fires. The bureau also works with the U.S.D.A. Forest Service and conducts the Smokey program.

To predict the daily "fire weather danger classification," the bureau also uses weather stations. Fire danger classification is determined by the National Fire Danger Rating System. It is a combined measurement of humidity, temperature, wind speed and precipitation. The final calculation determines the rate of fire spread (ROS) and the classes of day ranging from 1 (the least fire danger) to 5 (the highest fire danger). This number is broadcast to all fire departments in the state during wildland fire season.

In addition to the prevention programs, MBFFC personnel are involved with other pre-suppression and readiness activities such as: constructing and maintaining fire access roads; brush and tree thinning on state forest roads; fire lookout tower maintenance; firefighting equipment and truck maintenance; fire break construction; and limited "prescribed burning."

Forest Fire Detection

The early and rapid detection of wildland fires is a major responsibility of the MBFFC. It is vitally important to detect and pinpoint the location of wildland fires as soon as possible because of the rapid spread of wildfire through the seasonally combustible vegetation in the state. The growing SWI fire problem underscores the critical need for the staffing and maintaining of fire lookout towers.

The bureau provides fixed-point fire detection from its 42 active fire tower locations throughout Massachusetts. From their high vantage points, skilled tower persons use alidade tables, binoculars, sharp eyes, knowledge of their geographic areas, and topographic maps to triangulate and pinpoint the location of observed smoke. This information is then given to the local fire department for initial dispatch of fire units.

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Photo by Robert M. Winston
A Massachusetts Army Air National Guard helicopter dips its 200-gallon "Bambi Bucket" during wildfire operations. The Guard works closely with the MBFFC under a mutual aid agreement.

Tower personnel watch the progress and spread of fires and relay vital information to fire units and commanders at incidents. This can be extremely important during rapidly moving and/or large fire incidents. Tower personnel also initiate dispatch requests to the district fire wardens for state fire assistance to fires when resources are requested by a city or town fire department.

Also used by the MBFFC are limited county-based fire patrols and contracted fixed-wing aircraft for detection of fires in forested areas during periods of high fire danger. The state also maintains an agreement with the Massachusetts Army Air National Guard for use of aircraft.