Wildfire suppression is made up of the things that make the evening news - towering crown fires, air tankers dropping retardant, fire engines protecting homes and firefighters digging fireline on the side of a mountain. It may look like a glamorous job, but it is hot, dirty, dangerous work. Wildland firefighters work long hours and spend weeks away from home while controlling large wildfires.
Most of the wildfires in the Big Rivers area occur in the spring and to a lesser degree in the fall, as opposed to a summer fire season in the western states. In the eastern US, springtime’s low relative humidity and windy conditions make fire control difficult in the dead vegetation. Once the grass greens up, the trees leaf out and the high humidity of summertime sets in, fire danger diminishes. There is also a possible fall fire season if conditions are dry after leaf fall.
During a serious fire season, no single agency or fire department has enough staffing or equipment to manage all the fires in their jurisdiction. Mutual aid and other agreements allow agencies and fire departments to assist each other when responding to wildfires. Other programs help fire departments with prevention and pre-suppression activities by providing grants for equipment purchase, vehicles, equipment and training.
Federal Fire Property Programs
Fire departments within Big Rivers Compact states are eligible to receive excess federal property, including several types of vehicles and firefighting and emergency response equipment. The excess property is available through an agreement with the State Foresters and the U.S. Forest Service and is acquired through two federally sponsored programs. The primary difference between the two programs is that the federal government retains ownership of Federal Excess Personal Property Program (FEPP) property where property ownership is transferred to the fire department under the Firefighter Property Program (FFP).
To inquire about firefighting equipment that may be available through FEPP or FFP, contact your state fire supervisor.
Federal Excess Personal Property Program (FEPP)
Since 1956, the Federal Excess Personal Property Program has provided loans of equipment and vehicles to fire departments for use in wildland fire protection. Equipment that is excess to the needs of the federal government, but suitable for conversion to fire service, may be obtained by fire departments. Once obtained, departments are expected to paint, add additional equipment and recondition into a working fire vehicle.
The program is administered by the U.S. Forest Service and the General Services Administration in cooperation with the State Foresters to provide low-cost ways for communities to protect their citizens and natural resources from fire. Departments that provide wildland fire protection may participate.
Fire departments bear the cost of transportation, conversion, painting, storage, insurance and maintenance. The equipment usually requires some conversion, but the cost is much less than the purchase of comparable new equipment. Equipment must be returned to the State Forester when it is no longer needed.
Most equipment obtained under this program are trucks suitable for conversion to tankers or pumpers. Generators, pumps, fire hoses and breathing apparatus may also be available. Power units can be used to provide emergency lighting or to power a radio base station.
Firefighter Property Program (FFP)
The Firefighter Property Program (FFP) is one of the Department of Defense's (DoD) special programs where fire departments can get excess DoD property to be used for firefighting and emergency services. Certain property obtained from this program passes ownership to the fire department after it has been in use for a specified period of time. This program is managed by the Forest Service with the cooperation of the State Foresters.
Fire departments are responsible for making modifications and adding equipment to make the apparatus fire-ready, storage, maintenance and insurance coverage.
Volunteer Fire Assistance Grant Program (VFA)
Every year fire departments in the Big Rivers Compact states can apply for a 50/50 match grant to help buy firefighting equipment. Fire departments serving communities with a population of less than 10,000 are eligible to apply. Funding for the grants is provided by the state agencies and U.S. Forest Service.
Fire departments must have a current Memorandum of Understanding with their state agency and have match funding available at the time of application. Items eligible for VFA grants include SCBA, PPE, dry hydrants, communications equipment and modification of federal excess property. Special consideration is given to wildland fire equipment, improved fire protection in the wildland/urban interface and protection of public land.
For more information on VFA grants, contact your state fire supervisor.