The National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) is asking congressional appropriators to adequately fund federal programs dealing with wildland fire suppression in FY 2014. On April 25, the NVFC signed onto testimony as part of the Fire Suppression Funding Solutions Partner Caucus requesting support to:
- Fully fund the FLAME accounts created for the U.S. Forest Service and Department of Interior as intended in the Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement Act (FLAME Act) separately from and above the 10-year average used to fund annual wildfire suppression;
- Ensure that any remaining balance in the FLAME accounts at the end of FY 2013 carry over into FY 2014; and
- Fully fund annual suppression using the 10-year average along with more predictive modeling based on current weather conditions, fuel loads, and other data that contribute to wildfire risk.
The NVFC also sent a letter to House and Senate Appropriators asking that funding for the Volunteer Fire Assistance (VFA) grant program be restored to $16 million. VFA provides funding to volunteer fire departments that protect communities with 10,000 or fewer residents. Competitive grants are awarded on a 50/50 local matching basis to help pay for training, equipment, and protective clothing to help prepare local agencies to fight wildland fire.
Volunteer fire departments account for approximately 80 percent of the initial attack on wildland fires in the United States, but according to national surveys, many of these agencies lack adequate resources to equip and train their personnel to the level prescribed by national consensus standards. VFA funding requests have more than doubled since FY 2009 even as available federal assistance has dwindled. Meanwhile, the costs of wildland fire suppression are increasing steadily with commercial and residential development pushing further into the wildland/urban interface.
Adequate and consistent federal support for combatting wildland fire is critical. Under-funding suppression on the front end leads to a forced reallocation of resources intended for mitigation and public education efforts in bad wildland fire seasons. Avoiding this robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul scenario is why the FLAME accounts were created in the first place. Additionally, VFA provides local fire departments with the necessary tools to suppress wildland fire in the initial phase, reducing the need for deployment of state and federal wildland firefighters.
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