The future of wildland fire “management” must include clear distinctions between the functions of a land management agency and the functions of an organization established for safe and effective suppression action.
The past 15 years have ushered in an era of fuels management that has been of tremendous benefit for programmatic growth within the management agencies, but of dubious use for the intended purpose of reducing the size and severity of large fires. During the same time period, programmatic development as a firefighting force has in most cases degraded, or at best been stagnant.
Our incident management capabilities have diminished as the workforce ages and a younger generation doesn’t fill in from behind. Our initial attack capabilities suffer from a reduction in large airtanker capacity, with no clear, cogent planning effort to ameliorate the problem. Few organizational imperatives grounded in our suppression roles, such as recruitment, training, tactics or strategy, have changed in the last generation. In the mean time the fire ground becomes more complex and dangerous as fires grow faster and burn with higher intensity.
We should plan today for an organization that accepts as one of it’s primary functions the task of engaging fires with the intent to extinguish them. Only then can we begin to address our diminished suppression capabilities and how to better manage the operational and cost efficiencies of tomorrows wildland fires.
A quadrennial review should provide strategic direction for the organization(s) for which it is created. Not unlike the Cohesive Strategy, this QFR seems to find a comfort zone in the resource management aspect of wildland fire, but offers little for the most costly and dangerous function of a national fire response.