Fire Season '97

Last year's very busy wildland fire season is now a part of fire service history. The brutal winter of 1996-97 has brought us other forms of natural disasters in the form of record-breaking cold, Siberia-like blizzards that crippled portions of the...


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Chief Mike Long, Southern States Forest Fire Chiefs' Association: "SSFCA is concerned with the increasing incidents of arson by both paid and volunteer firefighters, the severity of budget cuts and the trend toward private contracting (for firefighters). Long suggests more marketing (i.e., writing articles) to promote the (fire) organizations and its members. SSFCA lists many of its accomplishments...organizing, training, equipping rural fire departments, ICS and programs for wildland/urban interface mitigation and cost sharing."

Bill Sommers, past chair, Nation-al Wildfire Coordinating Group: He is concerned with "the lack of funding for the wildland fire infrastructure ...Future goals include developing new technology and partnerships with the structural fire community."

John Chambers, U.S. Forest Service, Fire & Aviation assistant director: "Don't plan on additional funding...In 1996, we (were) at 88 percent of full strength (personnel), versus the 100 percent needed to accomplish objectives with the most efficient levels. In 1997, the U.S. Forest Service will be at 80 percent of full strength and the ceiling on full-time personnel is set."

C. Allen Jeffrey, director, Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center: "Canada's timber-related economy employs 20 million people and generates $40 billion annually. However, wildfires claim four times the amount of Canadian timber than the country's logging industry harvests. In terms of wildland fire fatalities, in the last decade, Canada experienced 27 deaths, the last four occurred in 1995...Personally speaking, I am more pessimistic today than ever before. I want to add the word 'capsizing' to the current buzzwords of 'downsizing' and 'rightsizing' to represent the loss of expertise and experience in wildland firefighting. After decades of buildup, the current trend of not replacing people or equipment has left many (fire) agencies simply trying to survive."

John Goodman, John Goodman and Associates Ltd: "Wildland fire managers are at a crossroads...The trend of agency downsizing equates to the elimination of skilled planning and suppression personnel through early retirements. It also represents a major erosion of base-level preparedness funding. Increasingly, fire system components (firefighting agencies) will be privatized. I feel that the situation has reached crisis proportions. If we are to deal with our problems, we must streamline, change, be cost-effective, partner, defend our positions and utilize technology. Shortsighted political decisions are now emerging as multimillion-dollar emergency suppression expenditures."

FYI Future articles being planned for the SWI column are about the California Department of Forestry (CDF), California's Office of Emergency Services (OES), the Colorado Wildland Fire Conference, the 50th anniversary of the "Great Fires of Maine" in 1947, structure triage in the SWI and Boston's new brush fire units.

FYI The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) has eliminated the position of wildland/ urban interface liaison and has no Wildland-Urban Fire Committee. The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) has no person or committee dedicated to the SWI fire challenge.

Question: The wildland fire suppression agencies are downsizing and reducing personnel and equipment. Who and what are going to be used to fill the fire suppression vacuum that will be left? Answer: The structural fire services' personnel and equipment. Privatized fire organizations are apparently already filling some of that vacuum.

I wonder whether the IAFC and IAFF know what is happening relative to the SWI fire challenge. The wake-up call is sounding. The structural fire services need to get serious about SWI and be ready to safely and effectively fill the need. If not, someone else will surely fill it


Robert M. Winston, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a district chief in the Boston Fire Department.