Fairfax, Va. – The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) today recommended several federal policy changes before a U.S. House Transportation Committee panel to help FEMA play a more beneficial role in the fight against costly wildland fires. In 2013, wildland fires burned roughly 4.3 million acres and cost the federal government more than $1.7 billion to extinguish.
Brian Fennessy, assistant fire chief for emergency operations of the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, testified before the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management on behalf of the IAFC (pdf), where he serves on the Wildland Fire Policy Committee. The hearing, chaired by Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.), focused on saving taxpayer dollars by lessening the impacts of disasters and strategies for speeding disaster recovery.
According to Fennessy, it is local fire departments that most often respond to wildland fire incidents. For fires on federal lands, the local fire departments work in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS).
"Nearly 97% of all wildland fires are extinguished during initial attack, a majority of them by local fire departments," Fennessy said. "The USFS estimates that local fire departments provide more than $36 billion per year in wildland fire-suppression assistance."
Fennessy testified that while the primary federal agencies responsible for wildland-fire response are the DOI and USFS, FEMA plays an important role in helping state and local agencies prepare, respond to and recover from wildland fires on nonfederal land. He suggested the following policy changes "to help FEMA play an even more beneficial role" in the fight against wildland fires:
- In the dynamic wildland-fire environment, the agency must use more flexibility when evaluating Fire Management Assistance Grant applications.
- Congress should allow FEMA funding to be used to mitigate the risks of post-wildland-fire flooding.
- FEMA should fully reimburse fire departments for interstate mutual-aid deployments.
- Congress should stabilize funding for wildland fire prevention and suppression.
"The threat of wildland fire continues to grow more severe," Fennessy said. "The IAFC looks forward to working with the committee to address these issues."
About the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC)
The IAFC represents the leadership of firefighters and emergency responders worldwide. IAFC members are the world's leading experts in firefighting, emergency medical services, terrorism response, hazardous materials spills, natural disasters, search and rescue, and public safety legislation. Since 1873, the IAFC has provided a forum for its members to exchange ideas, develop professionally and uncover the latest products and services available to first responders. Learn more