The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) urges fire departments to take a leadership role in ensuring their communities are educated and prepared for the threat of wildland fire. The current situation in southern California and continuing drought conditions in many parts of the U.S. serve as reminders for the fire and emergency services to stop and evaluate wildland fire planning in their community.
“We are closely monitoring the progress of events in southern California, and we stand ready to support the affected communities and their responders in any way we can,” said Chief Steven P. Westermann, IAFC president. “While the focus is on California now, the issue of fire in the wildland urban interface (WUI) is one that impacts an increasing number of communities from coast to coast. We urge the fire and emergency service community to make sure they are prepared to address this growing issue.”
The IAFC urges its members to review the tools and resources available from the IAFC Web site (www.iafc.org/wildland) and to take action in three areas:
1. Review and update as needed your Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) and tactical and operational procedures pertinent to responding to a wildland fire situation in your community and surrounding communities. Take both an internal and interagency approach to the review; make sure changing environmental factors are not overlooked, various public safety and local officials understand each other’s roles and firefighters understand critical safety issues. A review should also include recovery planning.
2. Take a leadership role in educating local officials and citizens to understand the threat of wildland fire and what can be done by all members of the community to prepare for such an event. It is critical not only to educate the public in how to mitigate fire risks, but also to manage the public’s expectations during a response. By working with your community, you can develop sustaining partners in the prevention of and response to WUI fires. Tools such as those provided by the Firewise program (www.firewise.org) and the CWPP process give a basis for developing such a partnership.
3. Take a leadership role in educating and training your department. Despite the rapid growth of wildland urban interface fires across the U.S., many departments have not yet developed standard training for a wildland fire situation. If you have not done so already, explore ways to educate your personnel on the differences in fighting fires in the WUI. Many western and some southeastern states offer good models. IAFC is working collaboratively with federal and state wildland-fire agencies to develop a training crosswalk that will evaluate the capabilities and gaps between structural and wildland firefighter training.
“Local officials may turn to you for information because of the news coverage from Southern California,” said Westermann. “Take the time now to move beyond the immediate questions and broaden the discussion about what your community can be doing to better prepare to mitigate and respond to the WUI fire risk.”