THE WILDLAND INTERFACE: IMPACT ON LOCAL FIRE DEPARTMENTS
BY MARY JANE DITTMAR
“In reviewing current conditions, it is evident that wildland/urban interface fire protection and prevention is not a new problem, nor are the recommended solutions newly conceived. Many of the reports and recommendations generated in the aftermath of the wildfires that destroyed homes are very similar in content and substance U. The problem is not one of finding new solutions to an old problem but of implementing known solutions. Deferred decision making is as much a problem as the fires themselves .U If history is to serve us in the resolution of the wildland/urban interface problem, we must take action on these issues now U.”
–“Federal Wildland Fire Policy Wildland/Urban Interface Protection”1
The one absolute the principals in the wildland firefighting community agree on is the fact that local fire departments will be responding to more wildland interface fires. The fires may be classified as “rural” or “interface,” observes Jim Smalley, National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) senior fire service specialist, “but the difference is a matter of scale. The interface is just outside of a department`s jurisdiction or unprotected lands.” Commonly referred to as “the wildland/urban interface,” these are the areas “where structures and other human development meet or intermingle with undeveloped wildland or vegetative fuels.”2
District Fire Chief Robert Winston of the Boston (MA) Fire Department refers to it as the “Structural Wildland Interzone (SWI)” and defines it as follows: “where structures meet or are mixed with vegetation, be it grass, brush, or trees, forming a ZONE that requires fire suppression operations combining both STRUCTURAL and WILDLAND tactics, strategies, and the proper equipment.”
The local fire departments are “implicitly expected to respond in a complete way,” Smalley adds. “This includes training, equipment, and crews.”
“Rural/volunteer and urban firefighters are part of the wildland fire community and must receive training and funding for wildland situations,” declared the 80 wildland fire management professionals in attendance at the Canada/US Wildland Fire Safety Summit held in Rossland, British Columbia, September 29-October 2, 1997. (About 73 percent of the attendees–firefighters and upper-level personnel–were Canadian, 24 percent American, and three percent Australian.)3
BACKGROUND: THE CHANGING WILDLAND FIREFIGHTING CULTURE 4
The growing number of structures situated in areas that once were uninhabited wildlands, the shrinking federal resources available to fight wildland fires, and the resultant complexities wrought by these developments have been working together to expand the role of local fire departments in the wildland-interface firefighting arena.
Among the factors that have necessitated a reassessment of the wildland interface firefighting policy are the following:
Migration to rural areas. As people continue to move from urban to rural areas, they bring with them their expectations for continued urban emergency services, federal wildland agencies point out. Developed private lands and state lands are situated near or among federally managed lands. Highly flammable, decadent fuels have built up on federal lands adjacent to private residential developments. Local agencies often call federal wildland firefighters to assist. Sometimes, federal agencies are the only source of fire protection. These agencies have limited money, time, equipment, and people. Since a fire burning in the interface today demands that scattered structures be protected at the sacrifice of natural resources elsewhere, the situation has been a significant fiscal liability to federal, state, and local governments.
Decreased federal resources. Congress, agency administrators, and the public have become concerned about the cost of fighting large wildfires. Services provided by federal agencies are being scrutinized “to determine the relative priority of every program and its contribution to the agency mission and the public good U.” Fire suppression resources are often “overmobilized,” which results in inefficient use and underutilization. Generally, in emergency situations, protection agencies respond with more suppression forces than can be effectively managed in the interface.
Increased cultural complexities. Federal land managers and fire personnel are uncertain about their role in the wildland-urban interface. No single policy clearly defines the federal land manager`s role or requires agencies to take compatible actions within the localities. Legal mandates, zoning regulations, fire and building codes, basic fire protection infrastructure, insurance/fire protection grading and rating systems, environmental concerns, and Fire Protection Agreements–and the political, social, and psychological factors involved–all affect the problems. There is no one simple solution. Leadership and cooperation are essential.
Safety concerns. Firefighter safety, as always, is the major concern. In the present environment, the five federal wildland firefighting agencies consider local volunteer and career firefighters to be at great risk, according to Phil Schaenman, president of TriData Corporation, a consulting and research firm. With the reduction in federal and state resources, the burden has shifted to local departments, he adds. “Statistics do not always tell the whole story. Don`t let the record fool you. There have been many near-misses.”
Federal response in the interface “spreads federal firefighters thin” and places them in situations for which they may not be adequately trained or equipped. Wildland suppression resources are often diverted to protect property with less value than adjacent or intermixed natural resources, and the safety of wildland fire personnel is compromised.
At the same time, the federal fire work force is “decreasing at an uncomfortable rate, particularly in key specialized skills.” According to Boston`s Chief Winston, U.S. Forest Service officials reported that the Forest Service was at 80 percent of its optimum personnel level in 1997. Firefighter safety is threatened when firefighters are placed in a position of operating beyond their training, experience, and equipment capabilities. Operations in the wildland/urban interface are not always well organized and safe due to inconsistent qualifications; performance standards; and experience among local, state, and federal agencies and tribal governments.
Safety Awareness Study
The prevailing federal wildland firefighting community environment has prompted greater introspection and assessment among the five federal agencies most directly involved in wildland firefighting: the Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and Fish and Wildlife Service. One of the actions they have taken to improve firefighter safety was sponsoring the four-phase “Wildland Firefighter Safety Awareness Study,” being conducted by TriData Corporation.5
Safety has emerged as a major issue among the 1,000 plus federal (and some state) wildland firefighters–from basic firefighters to agency administrators–who have participated in the study. What is remarkable is that a “consistency of safety issues” was revealed, observes Bill Bradshaw, project director for the study. Some of these safety problems are associated with management in interface fires.
Respondents point to a trend toward more severe wildland fires and more people being at risk in the urban/wildland interface. They cite hazards presented by the following: the increasing number of fires, the changes of tactics needed to protect structures, increased pressure to perform and not retreat, and the lack of training on the risks around structures (hidden propane tanks, electrical wires). The tendency, respondents say, “is to try to do as much as before with less resources, which sometimes pushes the envelope of safety.”
Another concern expressed is that local volunteer and career fire department crews, who are being relied on more despite shortfalls in their wildland fire training and equipment, will be misused. This concern is sharply greater in some areas than in others.
Among the safety areas respondents say are in need of improvement are the following:
Attitudes about safety. A minority of firefighters do not seem to have the necessary passion for safety.
Accountability for unsafe actions. People must be held accountable for meeting the standards that have been set. There is a need for accountability and responsibility for safety at all levels within the wildland firefighting community. The responsibility for safety cannot be transferred to a squad boss, a crew boss, or an officer. This issue also emerged at the Canadian/US Wildland Fire Safety Summit. Attendees suggested as options that “unsafe” personnel immediately be removed from the fire line or firefighting organization and be decertified.
Firefighters` experience. It is vital to making decisions under stress and doing the job safely.
Firefighters` physical fitness. Respondents note that even though the firefighting community acknowledges the need for good physical fitness, many firefighters who are not fit are accepted.
Crew supervisors` experience and ability. Crew and division supervisors should have the temperament, training, and experience to supervise during emergencies.
Public expectations. Because of the high public visibility of wildland firefighting, political pressures on field leadership will influence strategy and tactics and increase danger to firefighters. The situation will worsen as federal firefighting budgets and resources are declining unless public expectations are reduced. In this regard, Canada/US Wildland Fire Safety Summit attendees advocated that the firefighting community make the public aware that safety is firefighters` major concern and that safety will guide and limit their strategy and tactics.
Declining forest health. Accumulation of fuels from years of fire exclusion and the lack of an adequately sized prescribed burn program increase fire potential.
Study responses highlighted the fact that “fewer firefighters are available to handle more frequent and more severe fires while feeling less than fully supported and while experience levels drop.”
Equipment. Radios are not yet universally provided for each Type II crew or squad, and signal clarity, interference, and sometimes inadequate channels are problems.
Training. There is not enough realistic training at every level. There should be more scenarios, more field training, more practice in making decisions under stressful conditions, and more use of video and simulations. The realistic training should include the safe use of shelters.
Overall, study respondents indicated that “more attention should be given to keeping crews out of harm`s way instead of having to decide what to do when the crews are already in danger.”
SAFER INTERFACE RESPONSE FOR MUNICIPAL FIRE DEPARTMENTS
Ensuring firefighter safety and the ability to contain and limit the spread of fire in the wildland interface, as well as in other types of emergencies, entails preparing well ahead of time, thoroughly examining the potential for wildland fires (the number that could occur and their sizes), and developing contingency plans to cope with them.
A cooperative agreement/partnership (with the county, city, or state) is key to solving the overall wildland/urban interface problem, wildland firefighting experts agree. Such an arrangement provides for a unified, collaborative partnership among federal agencies; tribal, state, and local governments; and the private sector. If properly designed, it should identify risks, hazards, values, and responsibilities. “If you are going to work with the federal people, all must be on the same page,” notes NFPA`s Smalley. The agreements are most successful when they are initiated at the local level, supported by the states, and coordinated with the federal agencies. Federal agencies should develop a compatible policy for wildland/urban protection on the lands they administer. (1)
Agreements should clarify respective roles and responsibilities regarding fire suppression in the wildland/urban interface. Federal, state, tribal, and local agencies must share in the cost and allocation of suppression resources. Standards within existing training curricula, qualifications systems, and equipment performance criteria must be institutionalized. (1)
A good mutual-aid (cooperative) agreement will designate who will pay which bills, the roles and responsibilities of each party involved, and which party has jurisdiction. The agreement should be reviewed at least once a year.
When developing a cooperative agreement, keep in mind the following:
1. If you can`t get everything done, do the most important things first.
2. Keep things simple. Begin by working in areas where the most people agree that a problem exists.
3. Think big, but start small. If every agency you contact does not see the need for cooperation, work with those that do.
4. Multiagency training exercises will eventually be needed, and they are a great way for people to get to know and trust each other. Allow plenty of time, have clear goals, and let everyone have a chance to critique the training session.
5. To cooperate, you don`t have to give up your organizational identify or procedure.6
Adhering to standards applicable to overall firefighting and wildland firefighting safety procedures will help to ensure firefighter safety and efficiency. (In 1996, the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG)7 adopted the NFPA standard-setting process.) Among the standards applicable to wildland firefighting are the following:
NFPA 295, Wildfire Control–1991. Presents procedures for wildfire interagency incident operations management, including aircraft. A revision is expected later this year. It will cover also fire suppression, operations, and reporting.
NFPA 298, Standard on Foam Chemicals for Class A Fuels–Rural, Suburban, and Vegetated Areas–1994. Specifies requirements for foam chemicals used to help control fires involving Class A fuels. The revised version (1994) makes the document consistent with the changes in Class A foam technology developed since the original version was introduced in 1989. The standard is undergoing another revision.
NFPA 1051, Standard for Wildland Fire Fighter Professional Qualifications–1995. Identifies the minimum job performance requirements for wildland fire suppression duties and applies to all personnel who respond to wildland fires.
NFPA 1500, Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program–1997.
NFPA 1906, Standard for Wildland Fire Apparatus–1995. It provides a standard for apparatus basically designed and deployed to combat fires in the wildland. The apparatus covered by this document have pumps ranging in size from 20 gpm to 250 gpm (76 Lpm to 950 Lpm) and water tanks with a capacity of 125 gallons (473 liters) or more. Units with larger pumping capacity are covered in other NFPA apparatus standards and typically are not devoted exclusively to wildland fire suppression. The apparatus covered include the built-to-specification apparatus and the firefighting packages designed to be slipped onto a vehicle chassis. A chapter on proportioning systems for Class A foams and one on compressed air foam systems (CAFS) are included in this document.
NFPA 1977, Standard for Protective Clothing and Equipment for Wildand Fire Fighting–1993.
A new document, Standard for the Applications of Class A Foam in Structural Fire Fighting, is being drafted by a technical committee. It will go into cycle in August. Public proposals will be accepted from August 1998 through January 1999. The primary purpose of this document is to present information on the safe and effective use of Class A foam, as defined by NFPA 298 for manual structural firefighting and protection. For agent and application criteria, specific reference is made to NFPA 298, NFPA 1901, Standard on Mobile Fire Apparatus, and NPFA 1906.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has expressed interest in developing federal standards for wildland fire management operations. Don Artley, chair of the NWCG, has written to OSHA asking that it not act independently in establishing the standards but that it instead participate in the NWCG/NFPA standard-setting process, adopted at the October 1996 NWCG meeting. Artley explained to OSHA that the consensus standards setting process made it possible to involve a greater number of cooperators outside the federal sector with which the NWCG conducts joint operations. Artley further explained to OSHA that “the federal agencies can be heavily involved with state, county, city, and/or volunteer fire organizations during suppression operations and all cooperating entities must have a common set of mutually agreed upon standards under which to safely and effectively operate U.” OSHA has indicated that it had not yet established the scope of the fire brigade revision and that NWCG concerns would be considered in its decision.8
Wildland firefighting and structural firefighting are two different entities, experts point out. Therefore, firefighter safety and operational effectiveness hinge on firefighter cross-training.
“All municipal firefighters–paid and volunteer, urban, suburban, and rural–all should be cross-trained,” maintains Boston`s District Chief Winston, who has extensive experience and training in wildland and SWI protection and is a contributing editor to publications serving the fire service.
Winston advocates cross-training and cross-equipping the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) national urban search and rescue (USAR) teams specifically to provide structural fire protection in the wildland interface. The rationale for this recommendation is that the teams are fairly mobile and can be dispatched when the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, runs out of resources when simultaneous wildland fires are in progress. Now, Winston explains, military personnel are called in such situations.
In structural firefighting, points out TriData`s Federal Safety Study Project Director Bradshaw, the fire itself is attacked. The interest is to extinguish with water. In wildland firefighting, on the other hand, firefighters seldom rely on direct attack. Many operations rely on falling back and indirect fire attack.
“Local fire departments will get more involved in wildland firefighting,” confirms Jack Peters, supervisor of suppression, coordinator for the State of Montana Fire and Aviation Bureau. “They will have to protect structures.” Wildland firefighters, he notes, “do not have expertise in suppression but can handle foam lines.” Local fire departments, he says, “must learn about the behavior of the fire coming in from wildlands so they can better understand the situation they might be facing.”
“For years, talk has been the other way: that wildland firefighters should become more like structural firefighters,” relates James Stone, public information officer (PIO) at the National Interagency Fire Center. “That`s not our role; we`ll foam and protect.” He adds that federal agencies rely on the partnership with structural firefighters. Since the states have jurisdiction for private lands, Stone suggests that local departments partner with their states for training, tools, clothing, and shelters.
“A big problem in the eastern portion of the country is that the wildland is protected by volunteers, who don`t have much time,” offers John Marker, a retired member of the Forest Service who is now a consultant on interface fire and a director of Wildland Firefighter Magazine. “Training programs are in existence; the problem is a lack of commitment and implementation.”
Fundamental training encompasses areas such as wildland fire behavior; use of the incident command system; training and safety, including knowledge of the applicable standards; and the type of protective gear appropriate for wildland firefighting.
Individuals wishing to fight wildland fires under national wildland Interagency auspices must acquire and carry a valid Red Card. To qualify for the card, the applicant must successfully complete several basic wildland firefighting and safety courses and pass a physical fitness test.
Structural/municipal firefighters may find it difficult to obtain a Red Card in certain states because the necessary training and certification protocols may not have been established, explains Boston`s Chief Winston. This is especially true in Eastern United States, where the need for firefighters with Red Cards is infrequent,” he says. This situation is a “weak link” within the system that sometimes finds itself in the situation of being unable to meet its need for Red Carded firefighters, he continues. “This situation could be remedied with some commitment and a desire to strengthen the system,” he concludes.
In some states (programs and services available vary from state to state), municipal fire departments may obtain training through their local state forestry office or county fire training facility. “We encourage small fire departments to get to know their state forestry departments very well,” emphasizes Bill Terry, a cooperative fire specialist in Washington, D.C.
In New Jersey, for example, classes pertaining to wildland interface firefighting may be requested year round, advises Bert Plante, assistant division fire warden, New Jersey Forest Fire Service. Among the available courses, which are free, are federal government wildland courses S130 and S190, which cover basic firefighting and fire behavior; they are mandatory for members of federal wildland firefighting crews. Also available is “Fire Protection Operations in the Wildland/Urban Interface,” an eight-hour training program designed for fire company officers and firefighters from rural, suburban, and urban areas who may respond on mutual aid to wildland fires. The latter can be delivered at no charge to any county or regional fire training academy requesting it. It covers size-up, ordering and assigning resources, structure triage, command and incident management, and strategies and tactics to use in safely protecting property.
Plante`s office also is developing, in conjunction with agencies participating in mutual-aid agreements, initiatives that include establishing task forces, planning cooperative drills, and preparing equipment lists.
On the federal level, the course “Introduction to Wildland and Wildland Urban Interface Firefighting for the Structural Company Officer” is expected to be distributed through the Training Rescue and Data Exchange (TRADE) network to the largest 148 fire departments in the United States and the 50 state fire training systems around the end of June, according to Doug Williams, project manager for wildland course at FEMA`s U.S. Fire Administration`s (USFA) National Fire Academy (NFA). The course was pilot tested in New Jersey in September and was to be tested in Spokane, Washington in April (after press time). Two other courses, one for chief officers and one for firefighters, were discussed but have not been funded, Williams reports. But he adds that “we have not given up on the courses in our long-range plans.”
Several training programs for local firefighters are available in various formats and at very reasonable prices through the National Interagency Fire Center`s Publication Management System in Boise (see “Resources” above).
Another area in which differences are evident between structural and wildland firefighting is personal protective equipment (PPE), our sources note. At the Canada/US Wildland Safety Fire Summit, it was recommended that the fire community evaluate fire clothing in terms of heat stress and weigh the value of heavy flame-resistant clothing against the effects of heat stress. A major concern was that firefighters might put themselves at risk because they cannot feel the heat through the heavy clothing, gloves, and other protective gear. Attendees suggested that it might be best to train firefighters in how to judge which PPE would be best for a given situation instead of enforcing stringent rules to be applied to all situations.
Departments responding to wildland fires should also have available Class A foam and the equipment needed to apply it effectively. Also, vehicles used in this type of response should be heavy-duty, be equipped with all-wheel drive systems, and have fully enclosed cabs for crew protection. Departments should also refer to the NFPA 1906 and other pertinent standards.
PREVENTING WILDLAND/INTERFACE FIRES
As with structural firefighting, prevention is a primary goal in wildland firefighting. Various approaches may be taken to reduce the number and scope of wildland fires in the interface/interzone.
Efforts to reduce the numbers of wildland interface fires will be fruitless unless the public, especially those residing in interface areas, become partners in the initiatives, wildland fire agencies stress. One way to help increase the public`s awareness of the dangers in these areas is to incorporate wildland interface fire prevention/safety into the fire department`s fire prevention/fire safety program. Areas that might be included in such a program include the following:
How to prevent and mitigate fire losses in the wildland/urban interface through the placement of homes, construction methods and features, and safer landscaping considerations. During major fire operations in the wildland/urban interface, experts point out, considerable structure losses occur in the first few hours of an incident. This is often due to a lack of fire-safe vegetation management practices.
To this end, the Pacific Southwest Fire Laboratory in Riverside, California, is developing a model to minimize the risk to structures during wildland fires.
The model is based on specific characteristics of a site, the surrounding fuels, and the planned or existing structure. Information from this assessment can be used to guide fire departments, developers, and homeowners with regard to constructing and maintaining fire-safe zones and homes in wildlands and mitigating potential fire-related problems.9
Another tool fire departments and homeowners can use to assess fire hazards in the wildland is “Wildland Urban Interface Fire Hazard Assessment Methodology,” developed by the National Wildland/Urban Interface Fire Protection Program.10
The Mesa (AZ) Fire Department has developed “A Guide to Wildland and Brush Fires for Mesa, Arizona.” Among its contents are a description of conditions that affect wildland and brush fires, actions homeowners can take to help prevent their homes from becoming involved, and recommendations for making their homes safe.11
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has completed a survey of 500 landowners pertaining to acceptable hazard mitigation methods and funding strategies for implementing communitywide fuel reduction in the Palm Coast regions. A 42,000-acre development is planned along the Atlantic Coast. Development is characterized by large areas of brush and dense pine stands intermixed with homes on small lots. Many of the 25,000 residents live next to the vacant lots of absentee owners. Survey results indicate that homeowners and vacant lot owners are willing to permit the use of prescribed burning, mechanical brush reduction, and the thinning of over-story pines.12
FEMA/USFA has developed its “FIRE STOPS WITH YOU” campaign to promote rural fire safety. The agency is focusing on this approach to cutting down on wildland interface incidents by “getting the public to do certain things,” explains Tom Minnich, branch chief for fire management programs at the USFA. Some of the components of the initiative are “Fireplace and Home Fire Safety,” “Fire Safety Beyond the City Limits,” “Fire-Safe Landscaping Can Save Your Home,” and “Check Your Hot Spots!”13
Even a highly “firewise” public, however, cannot compensate for the lack of a “fire-smart” community development plan that incorporates the implementation and enforcement of zoning policies and codes that will help minimize conditions that foster wildland fires. Fire departments should work with city and county planning committees in developing areas adjacent to wildlands, advocates State of Montana Fire and Aviation Bureau`s Jack Peters. When subdivisions are being approved, fire departments should be “intensely involved in the development,” he continues, “making sure that there is adequate access, structures are fire-safe, and zoning and building codes are adequate.”
In addition, recommends NFPA`s Jim Smalley, fire departments should assess the land to determine the following: whether there are paved streets or dirt roads, the number of houses on a street, the width of the streets, the adequacy of the water supply, and whether road signs and house numbers are present.
NFPA 299, Standard of Protection of Life and Property from Wildfire–1997, and NFPA 1141, Standard for Planned Building Groups–1990, are two standards that may be consulted when planning community development. NFPA 299 includes planning, construction, maintenance, education, and management elements to assist parties responsible for fire protection, land-use planning, property development, property maintenance, wildfire safety training, public fire safety education, and other related tasks aimed at improving fire and life safety in wildland areas.
NFPA 1141 is applicable to planned building groups (such as condominiums, commercial buildings, and housing developments) in suburban and rural areas that would be impacted by one or more of the following if a fire were to occur: a limited water supply, limited fire department resources, an extended fire department response time, delayed alarms, limited access, hazardous vegetation, unusual terrain, or other distinguishing characteristics.
Federal agencies look on fire also for the beneficial role it can play in the environment. It is a desirable fuels management tool. In the wetlands, for example, fire is used to control undesirable vegetation. In grasslands, it is often used to replace the naturally occurring wildfires that once played a major role in developing and maintaining native plant communities. The blackened surface following a burn increases soil temperature, which accelerates activity of soil microorganisms and releases nutrients from the old plant stock.14
IN THE DEPARTMENTS
A number of fire departments have acted in various ways to adapt to their expanding roles in wildland interface fires (see “How Portland, Oregon, Built Its Urban Interface Firefighting Capability” on pages 80 and 81):
The Los Angeles County (CA) Fire Department has retrofitted more than 100 fire engines with fire retardant foam capability. (1)
The City of Boulder (CO) Fire & Rescue Department initiated a wildland fire management program in 1990 with the hiring of a wildland fire coordinator. A 12-member wildland team was established in 1992. The team responds to local and regional wildland fires. There is close cooperation between local, state, and federal agencies. In 1996, city and county firefighters were trained in wildland firefighting techniques. The positions of the wildland fire coordinator and the wildland technician are funded jointly with other city departments. The public is supportive of measures to improve forest health.15
Maryland Interagency (Western) Wildland Fire Mobilization–through a cooperative agreement with the USDA Forest Service, state forestry organizations provide trained firefighting re-sources to assist with the efforts to contain and control wildland fires. The Maryland DNR Forest Service has participated in mobilizing firefighters and single resource qualified personnel for dispatch to wildfires throughout the United States since 1974. It develops and maintains annually a list of qualified personnel who meet or exceed the minimum requirements for eligibility for dispatch.16
Tuolumne County, California, contracts with the California Department of Forestry (CDF) and Fire Protection to provide administration and suppression personnel for the Tuolumne County Fire Department. CDF provides protection for the wildland. The volunteer firefighter program is the heart of the county`s suppression effort. Tuolumne County is a prime example of the urban-wildland intermix fuel mode. “As development spreads to wildland, the cooperation between CDF and TCFD increasesU.”17
Georgia firefighters offer planning services to developers and homeowners. The state offers Fireguard, an educational computer program for schoolchildren, which teaches how to prevent and plan for interface fire .U The use of large-diameter hose, 1,000-gpm pumps, and quick response units have become standard operating procedures. “Fires that 15 years ago would have been managed over a period of days are now suppressed immediately.”18
Wildland fires are no longer “out there.” Thanks to the interface, they have come to our localities. Is your locality prepared to respond safely and efficiently? n
1. “Federal Wildland Fire Policy Wildland/Urban Interface Protection,” http://www.fs.fed.us/land/ wdfire7c.htm.
2. “Mitigation … Wildfire: Wildland/Urban Interface,” FEMA, http://www.fema.gov/ mit/wfmit.htm.
3. “Canada/US Wildland Fire Safety Summit U Recommendations,” http://www.neotecinc. com/wildfire/safety summary.html.
4. Unless otherwise noted, information in this section is based on the following resources: Endnote 1; “Federal Wildland Fire Policy Coordinated Program Management,” http://www.fs.fed.us/land/wdfire7d.htm; and “Federal Wildland Fire Policy Preparedness and Suppression,” http://www.fs.fed.us/land/wdfire7b.htm.
5. The “Wildland Firefighter Safety Awareness Study” consists of four phases. Phase I describes the strengths and problem areas of the current organizational culture. Phase II defines the desired organizational culture of the future that will enhance safety (85 safety goals were formulated). The final report covering Phase III was scheduled to be completed March 30 (after press time). It is to contain more than 250 recommendations, which have been previewed by the directors of the five federal bureaus. Phase IV, which will evaluate and monitor the changes, is expected to be completed around January 1999. Bill Bradshaw is the project manager and contracting officers` rep.
The references here are “Wildland Firefighter Safety Awareness Study, Phase I–Executive Summary, and Chapter 8: Summing Up–The Highest Priority Orders to Address”; Phase II, Executive Summary and “A Vision for the Future”; and “Goal Linkages,” http://www.blm.gov/nhp/Preservation/Fire Suppression/phase2-4.html. Additional information about the study is available from the National Interagency Fire Center at (208) 387-5512.
6. These tips were taken from “Developing A Cooperative Approach to Wildfire Protection,” developed by the National Wildland-Urban Interface Fire Protection Program. The booklet explains in detail the process for developing a Cooperative Approach, and also contains a Model Cooperative Fire Protection Agreement and various other documents. It is available through the NFPA and the NWCG-Publications Management System (PMS). Details for ordering it and other materials are given in the Resources box on page 78.
7. The National Wildland Coordinating Group (NWCG) coordinates the programs of the participating wildfire management agencies. It is comprised of representative of the following agencies: the U. S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Department of the Interior agencies (Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Office of Aircraft Services), the National Association of State Foresters, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)–a nonvoting member–and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)/U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), which withdrew its financial support in 1998.
An individual from the NWCG is a liaison with each of the following Working Teams that operate under the NWCG: Equipment, Incident Operations Standards, Fire Use (Prescribed Burns), Fire Training, Information Resource Management, Safety and Health, Publications Management System (PMS), Incident Business Management, Wildland Fire Education, and Fire Weather. Three Advisory Groups–Fire Danger Rating, Radio Communications, and Wildland/Urban Interface Program–also have been established.
8. Wildfire News & Notes, National Fire Protection Association, 11:2, June 1997.
9. “Fire Management in the Wildland-Urban Interface, Fire Management RWU Home Page, http://www.rfl.psw.fs.fed.us/firemgt/index.html; Richard Kimberlin, Program manager; (909) 680-1524, last modified Aug. 25, 1997.
The “Structure Ignition Assessment Model (SIAM)” computer software, expected to be available in late 1998, rates the ignition potential of a structure located in a wildland/urban interface. It is designed to help fire agencies to assess interface fire risk for presuppression and suppression planning, local regulators to establish minimum fire safety requirements, developers to plan new developments that meet fire safety requirements, and homeowners to integrate their structure`s design and landscaping so that they meet fire safety requirements. Contact: Intermountain Fire Sciences Laboratory, USDA Forest Service in Missoula, Montana, (406) 329-4820.
10. “Wildland Urban Interface Fire Hazard Assessment Methodology” may be accessed through the web site http://www.firewise.org or acquired through the NWCG Publications Management System (PMS). Details are given in “Resources” on page 78.
11. “A Guide to Wildland and Brush Fires for Mesa, Arizona,” Mesa Fire Department, http://www.ci.mesa.az.us/fire/brshfrs.htm. Updated Jan 28, 1998.
12. Wildfire News & Notes. A copy of the survey is available through the Florida Division of Forestry`s Internet Home page at http://www.met.fsu.edu/forestry.” For information, contact Mike Kuypers, district manager, Florida Division of Forestry, (904) 446-6785.
13. For additional information, contact the USFA at (301) 447-1200, fax (301) 447-1102, http://www.usfa.fema.gov.
14. Endnote 1; “Wildland Fire Management, America`s National Wildlife Refuges U Where Wildlife Comes Naturally!” http://bluegoose.arw.r9.fws.gov/NWRSfiles/HabitatMgmt/FireMgmt.html, revised: June 25, 1997.
15. City of Boulder (CO) Fire & Rescue Department, http://bcn.boulder.co.us/ boulder/fire/index.html; (303) 441-3350.
16. “Maryland Interagency (Western) Wildland Fire Mobilization,” http://www.gacc.com/ dnr/Forests/Otheragencies/mdfire.html.
17. “CDF/TCFD, California Department of Forestry & Tuolumne, http://www.mlode.com/ ~cdftcfd/page11.html.
18. Wildfire News & Notes, page 3; Contact: Roger Browning, Wildland/Urban Interface Fire Coordinator, Georgia Forestry Commission, (912) 751-3504, fax (912) 751-3465.
Following are some sources for additional information and training/planning/funding aids pertaining to wildland interface firefighting.
The Fire Management Branch, National Interagency Fire Center, Boise, Idaho, is the focal point for the National Wildland Fire Service`s national policy and coordination of activities; (208) 387-5512. (Interagency agreements have been established at the national levels that allow field offices to establish cooperative arrangements between themselves.)
The FIREWISE HOME PAGE, http://www.firewise.org, is a source of current information and links to various organizations in the wildland firefighting arena.
Various materials are available through the National Wildland Coordinating Group (NWCG). (For a description of the Group`s composition and function, see Endnote 7.) Among materials available are the Wildfire News and Notes newsletter, which is published by the NFPA in March, June, and September; the “Firewise Construction Checklist”; and publications such as “Developing a Cooperative Approach to Wildfire Protection” and “Wildland/Urban Interface Fire Hazard Assessment Methodology.”
All NWCG-sponsored publications are channeled through the NFPA [www.firewise.org/pubs/wnn; Public Fire Protection Div., (617) 770-3000] and the NWCG-Publications Management System (PMS). A listing of publications are contained in the NWCG NFES catalog. Municipal fire departments ordering a publication from the PMS should include the following information on agency or fire department letterhead: NFES catalog number, short description/title of the item ordered, quantity, shipping address (no P.O. Box numbers), payment method (Visa/Mastercard). Mail or fax orders: National Interagency Fire Center, Attn: Great Basin Cache Supply Office, 3833 S Development Ave, Boise ID 83705; fax: (208) 387-5573 or 5548.
FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grants Program provides for long-term hazard mitigation projects and activities that will reduce the potential for damages from future fire hazards and the costs for responding to and recovering from such disasters. To be eligible, the state must have an approved hazard mitigation plan in place to receive a Fire Suppression Assistance Grant or a Hazard Mitigation Grant. Contact: Tom Minnich, USFA, (301) 447-1200, fax (310) 447-1102.
USDA Forest Service: Rural Fire Prevention and Control (RFPC) and Rural Community Fire Protection (RCFP) provide cost-share grants to rural fire districts. The National Association of State Foresters, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, and the National Volunteer Fire Council have been working with Congress to change the funding authority for the RCFP program so that more funding may be acquired. It has been proposed that beginning in Fiscal Year 1999 the two programs be funded through the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee. The RCFP program has been funded through the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee and the RFPC through the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee. See New in Brief, March 1998, page 38.
“An International Collection of Wildland-Urban Interface Resource Materials” featuring a bibliographic listing of some 2,200 wildland-urban interface resource materials is available from the Canadian Forest Service in book form or on a computer diskette. Contact: Publications, Canadian Forest Service, Northern Forestry Centre, 5320-122 Street, Edmonton, Alberta T6H 3S5.
The California State Fire Marshal (CSFM) has developed a manual that summarizes some of the elements of the I-Zone paradigm. It is accompanied by an eight-hour course outline, a computer-based training program, and a workshop format aimed at a spectrum of target audiences. For information, contact CSFM Rodney Slaughter, 4 Williamsburg Lane #A, Chico, CA 95926; (916) 895-4018.
The CSFM has also designed and pilot-tested a 40-hour education course aimed at dealing with the I-Zone problem area. It is offered at the California Fire Academy once a year. For information, contact: Natalie Rodda, California Fire Academy; (408) 646-4240. (Source: Wildfire News & Notes, 11: 2, June 1997.
District Fire Chief Robert Winston, Boston (MA) Fire Department–consulting, seminars to heighten awareness of the structural wildland interzone fire challenge to firefighters and fire departments. He has 29 years of experience in structural and wildland firefighting. He can be reached at (781) 834-9413 and by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. n
HOW PORTLAND, OREGON, BUILT ITS URBAN INTERFACE FIREFIGHTING CAPABILITY
BY GLEN EISNER
The Portland Fire Bureau has four significant urban interface and forest fire problems, including Forest Park, the largest park in America. Portland annually updates its plan to fight wildland fires, fills and maintains hydrant cisterns in Forest Park, surveys and ensures that fire access trails are cleared, and conducts wildfire patrols during fire season. Portland has two brush units/patrols and one Jeep® for fire patrols and response to a wildland incident inside Portland. However, we have always considered ourselves a structural department–never drilling on urban interface or forest firefighting techniques and having only a small quantity of forest fire tools and hose to supplement the two brush units. But that was about to change.
A WAKE-UP CALL
In the middle of the night on October 9, 1991, all Portland fire stations were tapped out to stand by for possible assignment to a strike team of engines to fight a forest fire. This was one of the driest autumns on record, and the State Conflagration Act had been invoked because a forest fire was threatening Corbett, a small town 25 miles east of Portland. This had never happened before, and our preparation for the assignment was minimal.
Our engine company was assigned to the strike team and was given a few minutes to prepare to leave. We had no equipment list (let alone any tools) and no urban interface firefighting training or experience. We went around the station gathering extra equipment, clothes, food, and other supplies we thought we would need and responded with our normal structural firefighting equipment.
Our strike team was assigned to help protect the town of Corbett from the advancing forest fire driven by dry 46-mile-per-hour winds. Over the next five days, we successfully deployed lines and ladders–protecting our assigned structures. We also learned the difference between structural and urban interface firefighting. We realized we could be tasked with providing future strike teams in conjunction with the State Conflagration Act and that we had a larger urban interface problem within Portland than we previously had thought. After watching forest fire crews, we realized we were unprepared for this type of assignment and needed proper training and equipment.
WILDLAND INTERFACE PROGRAM INITIATED
The Portland Fire Bureau initiated a program to improve our ability to respond to an urban interface incident. A firefighter with some forest firefighting background was trained in fire line construction. In 1992 and 1993, he conducted hands-on training, teaching firefighters how to construct a fire line. (This proved fortunate when a fire line was constructed around a fire in Forest Park shortly thereafter.) The Fire Bureau conducted drills using Public Works` street flushers as a portable water supply. Firefighters and officers were given the opportunity to attend the multiday Northwest Wildfire Conference for urban interface training each spring. Chief officers also began working on plans to send strike teams to assist with structural protection at an urban interface fire.
A GREATER COMMITMENT NEEDED
The summer of 1994 was hot and dry. As forest fires ignited across the Northwest, the State Conflagration Act was invoked, and the Portland Fire Bureau prepared to send strike teams to assist with structural protection using the plans prepared over the previous two years. Firefighters who wanted to participate signed up and were given a list of personal items to have at their station in case of deployment. Certain engines and a fire apparatus mechanic were preassigned to strike teams, and the engines were readied with extra equipment. Shortly thereafter, Portland sent a strike team of engines to two major wildfires for structural protection–one to Wenatchee, Washington, and one to Grass Valley, Oregon.
These fast-moving walls of fire were truly spectacular and humbling. Strike team firefighters and officers had never seen anything like it before. Chief officers realized that if we were going to be truly effective in these situations, the Portland Fire Bureau needed to make a strong commitment to get forest fire equipment and special, realistic training.
Deputy Chief Del Stevens, one of the strike team leaders, was given the responsibility of preparing the Portland Fire Bureau for future wildland fires. He received the support of the Fire Bureau administration and began an aggressive campaign to improve our capability. Over the past three years, he has significantly improved and expanded our urban interface firefighting capability.
To ensure that everyone who might respond on a strike team is familiar with the incident command system used at wildland fires, all members of the Portland Fire Bureau completed the S130/S190 “Incident Command System” class. To improve urban interface tactics and safety, many firefighters, company officers, and all chief officers completed the S205 “Fire in the Urban Interface” and S330 “Task Force/Strike Team Leader” courses.
STRIKE TEAM PLAN DEVISED
To ensure consistent, complete deployment, and administrative follow-up, the Portland Fire Bureau developed an extensive Strike Team Plan document, which details the readiness process, activation, and deployment of strike teams. The composition of a strike team has been refined because of lessons learned during previous strike team deployments. To improve the preparation of apparatus and firefighters for wildland fires, 13 engines have been designated as strike team engines. These engines have been divided into two predefined strike teams. Each strike team consists of five engines (three are alternates)–of these, one is capable of producing Class A foam, and four of the five are advanced life support (ALS) engines. Each strike team has a leader who is a chief officer; he has a preselected company officer as his aide. A fire apparatus mechanic in a service truck may be deployed as an integral part of the strike team. A van used by the Training Division is normally dispatched with the strike team to carry extra equipment, shuttle food and supplies, and so on.
To ensure a prompt response, companies assigned to a strike team have a 15-minute time frame within which to leave their individual stations after activation. This requires personnel to have their personal equipment packed at their station and additional company equipment and supplies ready and waiting throughout the wildfire season. To assist firefighters in packing a personal equipment bag, the Portland Fire Bureau has compiled a list of about 40 items frequently needed at a wildfire incident. To ease staffing difficulties caused by deployment, all strike teams are comprised entirely of personnel from the same shift and are deployed using on-duty members. Strike teams are relieved four days later so members have one full day of rest before their next on-duty shift.
To equip strike teams properly, the Portland Fire Bureau purchased a significant amount of wildland fire equipment and designated one fire station to maintain, store, inventory, and issue the equipment. This Wildland Fire Equipment Cache is locked in an equipment cage in the basement of the station and is designed to outfit 50 firefighters. It includes 50 fire equipment gear bags, 50 sleeping bags, 50 sleeping pads, 50 equipment webgear harnesses (each with an emergency fire shelter and a canteen), 50 helmets with goggles, 44 helmet lights, 178 forest fire shirts, 90 pairs of leather work gloves, five water coolers, 12 tents (9 feet 2 12 feet), 12 programmed radios, 100 prepackaged meals (MREs), and special ALS Paramedic Mobilization Kits containing additional medical supplies for long-duration deployment.
To ensure rapid strike team response, annual drills on mobilizing and issuing equipment to the strike teams are conducted. This also provides the opportunity to check equipment and apparatus preparation and to refine mobilization procedures. Each strike team is checked to ensure that it has two lengths of three-inch hard suction hose with strainer, one or more float pumps with fuel, a Portland Fire Bureau-issued credit card, and an ALS Paramedic Mobilization Kit. In addition to wildland firefighting equipment, each mobilized engine receives a complete administrative packet, preprogrammed radios, a 10-gallon water cooler, an ice chest, disposable ear protection, and two MREs per person.
To provide hands-on training in fighting urban interface fires, Chief Stevens coordinated drills involving live fire in grass and brush. Strike team companies burned 10 acres in practice burns while receiving Forest Service instruction on constructing wet lines and black lines and received additional live fire training on protecting structures in the urban interface.
Each year before wildfire season, emergency fire shelters are distributed to fire companies. To ensure that every firefighter can deploy a fire shelter in windy conditions, firefighters practice deploying the shelters in front of positive-pressure fans. Strike team companies are detailed to companies not on a strike team to ensure that everyone can deploy the shelter properly.
PREPARING FOR THE CURRENT SEASON
The increased preparedness of the Portland Fire Bureau, because of our involvement with strike teams, has vastly increased our ability to defend structures at an urban interface fire in Portland. The Portland Fire Bureau will have a new 3,000-gallon water tender in service before the 1998 wildfire season. This will increase our ability to fight an urban interface fire in Portland and could respond as part of a Task Force.
At the request of the State Fire Marshal`s Office, the Portland Fire Bureau submitted the names of members with advanced ICS training and wildfire experience to supplement personnel on an ICS Overhead Team. At this time, we have personnel qualified to serve as incident commander, planning chief, liaison, structural operations chief, safety officer, and public information officer.
Barely six and a half years ago, the Portland Fire Bureau had virtually no urban interface firefighting capability, training, or equipment. Today, we have the ability to field two fully equipped and trained strike teams and have significantly increased our ability to fight an urban interface fire in Portland. n