Large and devastating wildland fires are occurring across the United States as the summer continues. Late summer always is a difficult time for wildland fires. However, the emergence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and its ensuing illness, COVID-19, have made this fire season unlike any other. Fire departments responding to wildland fire incidents face especially difficult challenges fighting fire and preventing the spread of COVID-19. The IAFC urges Congress to provide strong funding for existing grant programs, such as the Volunteer Fire Assistance and State Fire Assistance programs, and provide additional funds for fire departments to procure personal protective equipment (PPE) and other infection control supplies.
On August 6, Chief Erik Litzenberg, chair of the IAFC Wildland Fire Policy Committee, and representatives of other national fire and emergency service organizations held a virtual briefing for Capitol Hill staffers on a variety of wildland fire issues. This briefing highlighted a number of fire and emergency service needs including:
COVID-19: Fire departments are facing unprecedented challenges containing the SARS-CoV-2 virus while also responding to wildland fires. Chief Litzenberg urged Congress to adopt the IAFC’s proposal to provide $5 billion each for the AFG and SAFER grant programs. This funding is needed to ensure fire departments have the PPE and staffing needed to maintain readiness for wildland fires and other emergencies. Chief Litzenberg also addressed the need for local, state, tribal, and federal pre-planning for infection control measures in fire camps and other response considerations stemming from a lack of available firefighters and the potential need for virtual incident management teams.
Grant Funding: The IAFC urged Congress to provide $19 million for the VFA program and $83 million for the SFA program in Fiscal Year (FY) 2021. Chief Litzenberg also highlighted the need for Congress to fully fund the AFG and SAFER grant programs in FY 2021 as these grants help build local response capacity for all hazards, including wildland fires.
Vehicle Assistance Programs: The briefing provided an overview of the Federal Excess Personal Property and Firefighter Property programs which provide excess vehicles and other non-lethal equipment to local fire departments from the Department of Defense. These programs are vital mechanisms to help financially-challenged fire departments obtain vehicles that ordinarily would be out of reach.
Public Education Needs: Chief Litzenberg and the other panelists discussed the need for communities to adopt public education programs, like the IAFC’s Ready, Set, Go! program. The group also addressed the need for local and state governments to adopt the latest building codes in order to harden development in the wildland-urban interface and other communities.
A recording of the full briefing is available online for anyone who was unable to attend the live session.
Evan Davis is a strategic government relations manager for the IAFC.