New NFPA report reveals recommendations for improving wildland firefighter safety

January 30, 2017 – A first of its kind report based on interviews with local fire departments in the U.S. wildland-urban interface (WUI) reveals preparedness gaps in the safety and protection of firefighters. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) study, “Wildland-Urban Interface: Fire Department Wildfire Preparedness and Readiness Capabilities,” recommendations for safety improvements point to WUI firefighting equipment, firefighting training, and the health and fitness of firefighters.

The increasing frequency and intensity of wildland and WUI fires have become a significant concern in many parts of the U.S. and around the world. The study, the final phase of a two-part report, takes a comprehensive look at wildland firefighting nationwide. The Phase One study was published in 2015.

Through interviews with fire officials who had experienced a major wildfire within the last five years, NFPA examined whether and how local fire departments change and adapt following a major fire event. The report also identified critical factors that facilitate or constitute barriers to being better prepared and ready to control and mitigate a wildfire incident in their communities.

Key findings include:

  • WUI/Wildland Firefighting Equipment: Budgetary constraints are the leading barrier to accessing WUI-specific apparatus and tools, including the latest upgrades. Lack of funds also inhibits the purchase of full, up-to-date wildland personal protection equipment (PPE) ensembles for every wildland firefighter.
  • Firefighting Training: Urban, rural and volunteer fire departments increasingly co-manage fire in the WUI. However, there is a need to transition from traditional (structural) training practices to wildland fire training. Career firefighters tend to receive more wildland training than volunteers, including refresher courses and advanced wildland certifications.
  • Firefighter Health and Fitness: Firefighter fitness levels are not always adequate for the rigors of WUI fire events. The pack test, health screenings and fitness programs are typically used to make determinations about whether firefighters can work on wildland fires. Standard requirements for health and fitness vary by jurisdiction and among career versus volunteer firefighters.

Interviewees were all from areas with a recent history of large wildfire events, which increased their awareness of the need for additional wildland firefighting training and stricter fitness requirements. However, even when senior officers recognize these needs, they still face obstacles including availability of resources and funding, organizational structure and culture, and personnel resistance.

Firefighter safety in the WUI has also been identified as a critical need in NFPA’s latest “Fourth Needs Assessment of the U.S. Fire Service” report. According to the report, 63 percent of all departments provide wildland firefighting but have not formally trained all their personnel involved in wildland firefighting. It is one of the top three training needs for respondent departments protecting populations under 2,500. The report also states that two-thirds of all fire departments are not equipped with wildland fire personal protective clothing when responding to WUI fire incidents. The majority of all departments indicate they do not have a program to maintain basic firefighter fitness and health.

The data collected for this study helps inform research groups such as the Fire Protection Research Foundation and benefits NFPA’s technical committees that work on standards related to wildfire including NFPA 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire ApparatusNFPA 1906, Standard for Wildland Fire ApparatusNFPA 1051 Standard for Wildland Firefighter Professional Qualifications; and NFPA 1142, Standard for Wildland Fire Management.

Find the report and related resources on NFPA’s research webpage.

For this release and other announcements about NFPA initiatives, research and resources, please visit the NFPA press room.

About the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)
Founded in 1896, NFPA is a global, nonprofit organization devoted to eliminating death, injury, property and economic loss due to fire, electrical and related hazards. The association delivers information and knowledge through more than 300 consensus codes and standards, research, training, education, outreach and advocacy; and by partnering with others who share an interest in furthering the NFPA mission. For more information visit www.nfpa.org. All NFPA codes and standards can be viewed online for free at www.nfpa.org/freeaccess.

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Contact: Lorraine Carli, Public Affairs Office: +1 617 984-7275