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Standards and Qualifications a Priority in the West

The Western United States has been inundated with large wildfires all summer, and the West Regional Strategy Committee has risen to the occasion. One of the priority actions in the Western Regional Action Plan addresses how fire professionals maintain their qualifications.

"How do I become a firefighter?" is often heard by members of this group. Well, you could read these instructions from the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) called "How to Become a Wildland Firefighter," but that would not be the end of the story, by a longshot.

"NWCG is implementing a training initiative that will be leveraging Emergency Management Institute (EMI) of Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) training for Incident Command System (ICS) positions that have common objectives with existing NWCG courses. NWCG will be communicating a transition plan with all the Geographic Area Coordinating (GAC) Groups in the fall of 2013," their website explains.

What all this means, fortunately for all in this field or seeking to enter it, is a few good people are working to make fire training qualifications interoperable between sectors. This means becoming and remaining qualified for fire related positions should become smoother, procedurally, in coming months. Joe Freeland, Acting Senior Program Advisor for the Department of the Interior's Office of Fire and Aviation, and Aitor Bidaburu, Wildfire Program Manager for the U.S. Fire Administration, FEMA, both members of the Western Regional Strategy Committee, in a recent meeting brought to light the importance of this effort for the Cohesive Strategy. "The purpose is to identify where efficiency can be improved, and reduce duplication of training efforts among various agencies," wrote Bidaburu – who is also current Chair of NWCG – in the meeting notes.

In case you were concerned that only NWCG and the Emergency Management Institute (EMI) of Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) were cross referencing their Incident Command System (ICS) courses and reporting out through GAC, there are plenty more affiliated interagency organizations involved. NWCG, which has been working on this initiative for some time, explains on their top level web page that, "Information has been added to the FEMA NIMS Training page to assist with the NWCG transition to use the NIMS training curriculum." See for yourself at NWCG Training and Qualifications.

This is a major step for fire organizations at the highest levels, and will benefit people, process and products in the wildfire management field. For those fighting fires in the West, the sooner the better.

"Sheer geography alone mandates that we in the west collaborate," notes Katie Lighthall, Coordinator for the Western Regional Strategy Committee. "Resources aren't an hour away; they are 6 to 10 hours away. Organizations in the West, already depending on each other just to do firefighting, laid the groundwork for collaborative culture." Now the Strategy has given a broader scope for effectively addressing the widespread and longterm issues that arise from wildland fire. Standardizing training qualifications across sectors will go a long way toward increasing the human resources we need to live intelligently, responsibly, and efficiently with large wildland fire in and around our communities.

For more information about the fire training qualifications in the Western Regional Action Plan (PDF, 1.2 MB), see item 3.3b on page 56.