Guest Blog! USFS Jessica Gilmore: Our Partner During a Pandemic

To Burn or Not to Burn?

Or

Where Are All the Firefighters?

Or

Wildfire Considerations During a Pandemic


(Or all of the above) Words by Jessica Gilmore, USFS, Wenatchee River Ranger District

During the current request of “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” many folks are taking the opportunity to address home health—raking, pruning, cleaning the gutters, and so on. A responsible public is certainly a friend to firefighters, and while the kind of work being done is greatly appreciated, please hold off on burning debris. “What’s the big deal?”, you may ask.

Firefighting is dangerous during the best of times, but the current situation with COVID-19 is creating unique firefighting conditions for both municipal and wildland firefighters. Firefighters inherently work in close proximity to each other and the public. As a wildland firefighter, I can provide some applicable perspective about concerns being addressed by the U.S. Forest Service.

Response to wildland fire is being reviewed and reformed

New protocols address keeping wildland fires small and containing fires quickly and aggressively. Keep in mind the firefighting workforce is adjusting to quarantine requirements, addressing the same challenges as in past seasons but with new hurdles. Permanent staff are serving in an “on-call” capacity, so response times are longer than would be during this time last year. Seasonal employment is contingent on resolving housing and social distancing needs. Fire preparedness is also affected: annual trainings, refreshers, and fitness tests are delayed or less accessible to many firefighters.

The traditional fire camp is under review as well. Many of you have resided in this area long enough to have seen Incident Management Team fire camps during large wildfire incidents. They are like small cities—self-functioning and somewhat self-contained. National direction is this season fire camps remain small if they are indeed necessary, a measure designed to minimize firefighter exposure to the COVID-19 virus. There has also been consideration of mandatory quarantine both before and after fires, which would greatly impact firefighter response on a national level. If additional firefighters are needed here on a local wildfire, their response time may be delayed while assessing their possible exposure to COVID-19 during a previous incident.

To delve into this further, check out this article on WildfireToday, which expounds on other areas of firefighting affected by the virus.

So what now?

There are still many questions being addressed on a national level with regards to wildland fire management and procedures for potential firefighter infection (Click here to read the official letter from Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, Victoria Christiansen). What can you, the public, take-away from this right now? Remember that this is a temporary state. “Normal” will most definitely look different on the other side, but we will all move through this. Recreate responsibly, refrain from burning yard debris, be vigilant about “Drown, Stir, Feel”, and remember Smokey Bear… “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires!”

Note: the above guest blog was written by a US Forest Service wildland firefighter and fire prevention, mitigation, education and outreach technician. It is their perspective on the current “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” situation and how it may impact the approaching wildfire season.

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