(By Mike Bucy, Fire Chief Stevens County Fire Protection District #1)
A large portion of keeping wildland fires in check continues to be ignored on the state level. Initial attack/response can and does have a huge effect on the outcome of many wildland fires. While pouring money into state agencies may seem like a benefit, ignoring the local fire districts that respond to the 9-1-1 calls is a grave mistake and one reason wildland fires get an initial foothold.
To keep wildland fires that do break out to a minimum, we need to regionalize responses from local fire districts and departments. There are over 500 districts/departments in the State of Washington. Only a small percentage respond on a regular basis (only 67 were utilized by DNR in 2018, according to their 2018 report). Incentivizing and being more inclusive to all districts in the response plan would greatly enhance the efficiency and response to wildland fires. The resources are there; the State is not using them.
I encourage the State to consider funding for wildland fire legislation so that it includes a plan to regionalize initial attack. Most of the money that would be used for this plan can be saved via a lack of damage larger wildland fires can do. There are also other, revenue neutral (for the State) ways to increase funding.
Getting on scene faster (regardless of jurisdictional boundaries) will limit many of the catastrophic fires we have experienced since 2014. Not all fires will get caught in the 5-20-acre phase, but by ignoring local resources, the probability is astronomically higher that they will get out of control.
The Washington State Local Fire Service agencies respond routinely and arrive on scene of an initial call in under 15 minutes. This is where monies should be allocated.
Washington State still has two competing agencies “in charge” of wildland fires, neither of which can speak for local fire districts. There is a bureaucratic hole in which wildland is concerned. The second point of this letter is to revisit RCW 43.43.93 which very simply calls for a single, state fire agency to “…enhance the capacity of all local jurisdictions…” This has been on the books since 1993, and to date, we continue down a path where the State ignores the local jurisdictions and our capabilities.
There is a lot more to address concerning wildland fires and other fire district issues, but due to limited space and time, I will not overburden you. Please take the time to research the implications of funding/incentivizing those that respond to the initial reports of wildland fires across the State of Washington and the long-term savings that can have.