October 31, 2017
Kansas Forest Service Fire Program Provides Assistance Nationwide
Submitted by Jennifer Williams
Kansas Forest Service professionals actively maintain relationships with top fire managers around the country. Having such experts on speed dial – with the ability to speak with them on a first name basis and get input on situations that could arise during a wildfire – is a priceless asset.
In addition to its responsibility for the state’s trees, the Kansas Forest Service is dedicated to supporting fire departments, both with their day-to-day needs, and when a crisis is bearing down on their communities. As part of a nationwide network of experts, Kansas professionals can access support for emergencies here in their home state, and can be called upon to help others when needed.
Each day from March 3 – October 2 this year, one or more Kansas Forest Service staff members helped manage a national-level incident somewhere in the nation.
So far this year, KFS staff members have worked on fires in 15 states, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
That experience is then brought back to benefit the people of Kansas when the fires are burning and the winds are blowing in the spring.
The primary focus of the forest service’s fire management program has long been to empower Kansas fire departments to serve their communities. The program provides training, excess property distribution, prevention materials, grant funding and consulting – all aimed at helping fire departments provide the best services they can.
But the last couple of years have made it obvious that the wildfire situation in Kansas is escalating – as it has been elsewhere – and that from time to time, major wildfires will exceed what fire departments and their mutual-aid partners are prepared for. When major wildfires continue beyond a day and require large-scale responses, it becomes necessary to call for outside help to manage the incident. The KFS fire program has been preparing for years to provide assistance on these incidents.
Throughout the summer fire season in the western U.S., full-time and seasonal members of the forest service are requested throughout the country to assist with managing major fires. Deploying to these incidents provides a number of benefits to the agency, including the training and experience-building in various disciplines so Kansans are prepared to assist in managing crisis wildfires here at home.
For the past 10 years, the KFS has provided firefighters, squad bosses and crew bosses for the Mid Plains Interagency Hand Crew, which fights fires in remote locations – often without water – by digging fire lines, clearing brush, and other difficult work that is necessary to stop fires where fire trucks cannot go.
For an even longer span, the forest service has made its wildland fire engine available for firefighting efforts. This year it assisted on a major wildfire in Colorado, and was later sent to an area of extreme fire danger in Oregon. The crew provided initial attack and incident command on at least a half-dozen new wildfires while working there. The engine ended the season in Idaho, on the forest service’s first response as members of the Great Plains Fire Compact, which was signed into law this spring.
The KFS has two nationally credentialed incident commanders, several qualified as leaders for strike teams and task forces, and division supervisors, who manage a complete section of a fire. They have worked from Georgia to Oregon this year.
Successfully managing a major fire takes more than firefighters and commanders. The Incident Command System is used by all modern fire agencies managing incidents of various sizes. On major incidents, the logistics, finance and planning sections become essential, as does public information. Forest service employees working in each of these roles were among the professionals dispatched from Kansas to help battle fires in multiple ways all over the country this year.
For more information about the Kansas Forest Service, visit kansasforests.org.
About the Kansas Forest Service...
The Kansas Forest Service is the nation’s fifth oldest state forestry agency. The agency serves rural landowners, communities, rural fire districts, forest and arboriculture industries, and citizens of the state through its Conservation Tree and Shrub Planting, Fire Management, Community Forestry, Rural Forestry, Marketing and Utilization, and Forest Health programs. The Kansas Forest Service state office is located in Manhattan, Kansas, just west of the campus of Kansas State University. The Kansas Forest Service is housed as an independent agency within K-State Research and Extension. The agency receives its direction from a mission statement that reads: “Care of Natural Resources and Service to People through Forestry.”