08-25-2000, 08:50 AM #1SWIDFCWINSFirehouse.com Guest
NOT ENOUGH U.S. STRUCTURE FIREFIGHTERS WORKING WILDFIRES
In this forum, and elsewhere, there has been discussion, sometimes heated, about why foreign firefighters (and our own military) are being brought in by the thousands to fight western wildfires while many many U.S. structure firefighters are not being called upon.
The fact is that there are thousands of structure firefighters who are both willing and able to assist with the western wildfires and indeed they are not being utilized. Why?
The answer is multifaceted. 1)They must be red carded. Red carding is fairly simple and if the feds are training our military in a day or two, then they can surely train our own firefighters very quickly as well. The stamina test is either the Step Test or the Pack Test and must be passed at the Arduous Level for line firefighting. Other rating levels allow for other than line firefighting. 2)Then, red carded firefighters must have the complete wildland PPE. This PPE is supplied by the feds at fire camps. 3)Next,get on the fed's list of resources by contacting the nearest regional coordination center. There are 11 of them. Call the National Interagency Coordination Center in Boise, Idaho for that information.
There are also many single resource and specialist positions available. Obtaining those will take some time and cannot be done in a day or two.
Once on the list of resources at a regional coordination center, your chances of being called to a fire assignment are good. But, it is still no guarantee of getting an assignment, as I have discovered. I did get one fire assignment this year to Montana as a Structure Protection Specialist. It was an honor and a privilege to have been able to do my small part in this year's wildfire crisis.
Let's discuss the Emergency Management Assistance Compact or EMAC and why it is NOT being used in a big way as EMAC was during the Florida Fire Siege of 1998. In its simplest terms, EMAC allows for the mobilization of thousands of structure firefighters staffing hundreds of fire apparatus that are, by law, able to travel out of state to fight fires and to assist geographical areas hard hit by other disasters.At last count, there were 32 states signed onto EMAC.And, structure firefighters that are a part of EMAC task forces/strike teams do NOT need to be red carded.
I read that EMAC was used ONLY within Montana this year. Montana has no statewide mutual aid system. This was told to me by firefighters in that state. Obviously, this has been a big problem for Montanans this year. EMAC use helped a lot.
I have no idea why EMAC has not been activated throughout the entire western U.S. in light of what is going on. EMAC should have been fully activated and a coordinated effort mounted to get firefighters and fire apparatus to where they were needed. Especially for structure protection. The question beggs for an answer as to why EMAC has not been activated for the western states.
This country has yet another national resource that has not been utilized and could be utilized very quickly. That resource is our 28 Urban Search and Rescue Teams. These teams are comprised of mostly structure firefighters, EMT's and paramedics; are highly trained and organized; are already plugged into the federal system and are very mobile. Why not activate some of the US&R Teams during this national fire crisis?
If any of our forum readers have answers to the above questions, please let us know. I think that the structure fire managers and the wildland fire managers need to get together and develop a better national mutual aid system than what is presently in place. The national fire crisis of this year is a glaring example of why there is a need for a true national mutual aid system.
Other than that, I don't have much of an opinion.
[This message has been edited by SWIDFCWINS (edited August 25, 2000).]
08-25-2000, 12:15 PM #2fireman703Firehouse.com Guest
I think a federal Law mandating a national mutual aid plan is a very good idea. It would eliminate some politics on who should be called to respond. Being from Washington we have been very busy. I am a Vol. FF with a red card. There has not been that much of a need for Structural protection this year. What has been needed is Wildland Eng. and manpower to work handcrews. I am also Active duty Military (Survival Instructor) and Have been used as a Strike team leader with my troops in past years. When Called upon we cost nothing to use. We are already being paid by the Govt. I have taken leave in the past to fight fires but this year they changed the amount of time they need people to commit. It was previously 72 hours, this year they request crews for 2 weeks, Understandable due to the amount of fires this year. The work the military does on these fires is very mundane and away from any active fire. They are used on mop up, digging out burnt out areas cold to the touch. All wildland fires are not Federal. It depends on who owns the land to determine who pays the bill. Most of the wildland fires are paid for by the states because they are on state or private land. Every one working these fires is paid. In these areas structure protection is done by the Local departments and when more equipment is needed they start to go outwards in a circle to get the closest Apparatus for structure protection. These Apparatus do not have to commit as long. Structures are saved or lost, the homeowners landscaping and mother nature quickly makes this decision for you. As a note; out here is nothing like Florida or California. Fires are in remote locations and we do not have very much undergrowth or the amount of structures needing protection. Most of the structures Historically lost are unsavable no matter what is done, due again to their landscaping and remoteness. It is also to be stated that protecting a structure during a wildland fire requires special knowledge and training, it is nothing like structural FF. Two last things' this year due to manpower shortages, for Mop up operations red cards have been waved if on a Trained team. If FF can commit to two weeks, have the stamina to work 14 hour days doing manual labor in difficult terrain, the papers out here are filled with Jobs doing Mop up. If anyone has any Q's let me know.
[This message has been edited by fireman703 (edited August 25, 2000).]
08-28-2000, 02:29 PM #3Phil DanielsFirehouse.com Guest
I agree wholeheartedly with your opinion that structural firefighters are not being used appropriately...
As I have found through personal experience, it is difficult to dedicate a minimum of 14 days away from my primary job. I have been on two rotations this summer (High Meadow and Pony @ Mesa Verde) and it was a small hardship to find enough people to staff my engine. Our solution was to rotate crew members through the engine as their time allowed (easy for us when the fire is close, impossible to do in MT).
Another issue is the local interagency dispatch center - the gateway to national system. In June during the High Meadow fire, I had to go into the dispatch center, find the equipment desk, and personally tell her what equipment we had available. (It didn't matter that we had been sending our availability list to them daily for over a month...) It seemed that they weren't concerned about what resources were locally available and were more concerned about bringing in equipment from other regions.
Finally, it is true that structure protection hasn't been in great need on many of the fires, but even on the fires that do require structure protection, many management teams continue to request either "Type 6" or "Type 1" engines. In my opinion, while both can be stretched to the job, why not order the right resource for the job - a "Type 3?"
08-28-2000, 03:34 PM #4monteFirehouse.com Guest
The mutual aid system appears good at a glance, let me offer another perspective. We have for a long time discussed the merits of relevant training and physical fitness. If those two requirements are minimized just to produce "bodies" on the fireline I want no part of it. The heart and desire of many folks are noteworthy, but without the training and physical ability to match good intentions become dangerous and time consuming. The NWCG minimum requirements are not enough, and firefighters crossing over do not have the survival savy to act in time. I refer to the majority, not the minority that has and can. Let's just say we were not prepared for this kind of a season with these kinds of demands. I am a structure fireman as well as wildland, and can see some places where structure folks could fit in nicely. 1st: emti or higher that would be willing to qualify for fireline duty; not camp. Not having enough or any line qualified emts has placed several crews in camp for days because we could not support them on line. 2nd: Structure protection specialists treat the symptom not the problem. Non the less they are needed until home construction and land use planning changes. The problem with this situation is, our technology cannot keep up with the demand this year. We have used so many pumps and sprinkler systems, we have left a horribly depleted cache of pumps and hose. Not enough equipment for actual fire fighting. I see the politics of getting anything done as being unreasonable, untimely, and insufficent. Play the game, be ready and available, use the election year to your benefit, get on a fire, and make a favorable reputation .... that is still how it works best.
08-29-2000, 11:05 AM #5SWIDFCWINSFirehouse.com Guest
Good thoughts by all, thus far on this subject.
I need to answer my own question that I posed with regards to EMAC activation and why it was not being activated in a major way in the west this year.
An official from the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) told me that EMAC was not activated in the west, with the exception of Montana, because most of the western states are NOT members or signatories of EMAC. Montana is a member of EMAC and its Governor requested EMAC's aid. Thirty-two states are EMAC members. Most are located east of the Mississippi River. FYI.
08-30-2000, 01:26 AM #6Aerial 131Firehouse.com Guest
Ok, is Washington an EMAC state? I like where you are headed, MA on the mega scale.
Why hasn't FEMA invited all states to be members, that way everyone is sharing the needed resources when needed.
If not how do we as an individual, department, or group of agencies get the state to get into this to effect MA on the big scale?
Also, since we are discussing structural FF on wildland incidents, is it possible that safety issues may occur due to lack of KSAs and a lack of equipment for structural department to even particpate. Are we not maybe sending the wrong types of FFs for the job needed.
I know everyone can get trained and we all like new training stuff but in the big cities how many of the FFs are really going to be of benefit in getting the fire out when you are doing bump and run tactics.
You take a truckee of 15 years and hand him a pulaski and he will think you have gone mad!
08-30-2000, 09:13 AM #7SWIDFCWINSFirehouse.com Guest
Nope. Washington State is NOT a member of the Emergency Management Assistance Compact or EMAC. In the western U.S. the only states that are EMAC members are Nevada, Montana, New Mexico. Texas and Oklahoma are also EMAC members in the southwest. For complete information about EMAC look at its web site at: www.nemaweb.org/EMAC/index.cfm. EMAC must be legislated and signed by the governor of any given state. The state's fire chiefs and emergency mangement agency must also have an active role in the process. The process is very involved. If all 50 states and U.S. territories were signatories of EMAC we would be well on our way to having a true national mutual aid system.
I do not advocate that structure firefighters be immediately sent to work on large wildland and/or W/UI fires without first being trained and equipped to do this type of fire suppression in a safe effective manner. And then there is the fitness level factor that must also be measured BEFORE allowing structure firefighters to participate. All of those parameters must be taken into account.
However, in the emergency type of situation that we have seen during this fire season, structure firefighters could be utilized for limited wildfire suppression in accessible areas and for structure protection including interior fire attack on structures. This is what they do on a daily basis anyway in their normal jurisdictions. By bringing more of the structure firefighters into this type of operation, more wildland firefighters can be freed up to focus in on what they do best. That's the point.
08-30-2000, 11:53 AM #8NCFiremedicFirehouse.com Guest
I work as a Firefighter in North Carolina on a Military base; I also volunteer out in town as a FF/EMT-P. Work just called me and asked if I wanted to go "Out West" and help with the fires. I said I would love to but I don't have my red card, (another one of those classes we were supposed to receive a few months ago, but was cancelled at the last minute.). I was told "No red card, no go." Know this upsets me. Many other people and I can go out and help in many ways other then with a pulaski. At the minimum we can clear up some of the wildland guys that are stuck doing structural protection duties or possibly stand by as medics. I also don't understand how a few thousand marines/soldiers can be trained in a few days but us structural folks can't. I guess I'm just venting and frustrated at the system. Would really like to help but once again POLITICS intervene.
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