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4. Strategic actions

The strategic actions are intended to assist planners and managers, landholders, local groups and communities of interest in the holistic management of fire. They can also be used as a checklist to assess organizational capacity.

4.1 Fire and resource management planning

Fire and resource management planning should be based on a legal, institutional and policy framework. This framework provides the basis and structure for strategic and tactical planning and implementation actions.

The legal framework comprises broad, multisectoral resource management plans. These plans elaborate the management, protection and restoration of land and resources. Generally, a resource management plan does not determine the use or designation of an area, but sets out the activities and procedures that will be used to fulfill the legislative, institutional or individual mandate.

A fire management plan is one level below the resource management plan, although it is possible to develop the former without the latter in place. The fire management plan should address all actions listed within this section. In some situations, it may be best to develop individual plans for selected sections, such as fire prevention or the use of planned fire. However inclusive the fire management plan is, safety should be a principal component.

In areas in which the climate is marked by wide variation, planning for extreme events is important. Resource allocation, prioritization and community engagement during periods of severe fire danger are keys to protecting civilians and assets.

Strategic actions for fire and resource management planning include but are not limited to:

4.2 Fire management in natural or protected areas and reserves

Fire management actions can be applied to all types of forests and woodlands and to areas designated for production, conservation, cultural activities or as protected areas and reserves. The same general approach to fire management planning should be followed in all areas. However, the specific management objectives for each environment must be taken into account and, as a result, the operational standards and actions may vary.

The key consideration in these areas is formulation of strategic actions for the management and protection of each area. Endangered or threatened species, indigenous values and sacred sites, water reserves for communities, and scenic and recreational areas all have social, economic or non-economic values that must be considered in the development of fire management plans.

Protected areas may require special consideration in the planning for fire suppression actions, and fire personnel may be required to use specialized tactics and suppression techniques in these areas. In many sensitive areas, the use of heavy, mechanized equipment can be damaging to the environment and can disturb the special values of the area more than the effects of a fire. In all cases, a balance should be reached in the right amount and kind of fire, the right types of prevention and response and the impacts on the area and on adjacent areas.

Strategic actions for fire management in natural or protected areas and reserves include but are not limited to:

4.3 Fire awareness and education

Fire awareness and educational activities can be very effective in involving the community and other groups in a fire management programme and in engaging the community as a responsible partner. A well-informed public will be more likely to use fire carefully and to adhere to policy and legal boundaries. It can assist in the prevention, detection and reporting of fires, work with fire personnel to control unwanted fires, and provide a source of local and traditional knowledge.

A programme of awareness and education can be provided to schoolchildren through a structured set of lessons and learning objectives. Other programmes should be developed for adults and communities to educate and to communicate changes in policy or in the understanding of the role of fire and the impact of unplanned fires on ecosystems and resources. Successful media campaigns, based on sound technical knowledge and research, have used print media, radio and television to spread a message of fire prevention and the proper use of fire, as well as to warn of situations of elevated fire danger in which extreme fires might occur.

Strategic actions for fire awareness and education include but are not limited to:

4.4 Fire prevention

Fire prevention may be the most cost-effective and efficient mitigation programme an agency or community can implement. Preventing unwanted, damaging fires is always less costly than suppressing them. Prevention programmes that are accepted and promoted within the community not only reduce costs and resource damage, but also promote understanding of the role and impact of fire in the ecosystem.

Fire prevention applies to human-caused ignitions and requires a combination of community education, effective prevention programmes and enforcement of laws or regulations. In fire-dependent ecosystems and cultural areas, allowing some fires to burn within defined parameters may be beneficial, although letting human-caused fires burn with the objective of benefiting the ecosystem may complicate attempts to enforce prevention regulations.

In many parts of the world, planned fire is included as a component of fire prevention. It can have a very significant and beneficial impact on reducing fire severity and damage and it assists firefighters in suppressing fires. It also has many benefits for ecosystem sustainability, maintenance and restoration. In order to emphasize the role fire plays in sustaining and restoring ecosystems, planned fire is addressed in section 4.13.

Strategic actions for fire prevention include but are not limited to:

4.5 Fire danger rating and early warning systems

Fire danger rating systems have long been used to determine the level of fire danger and provide early warning of the potential for serious fires. Rating systems use basic daily weather data to calculate wildfire potential. By using forecasts, early warning can be provided many days in advance of a significant fire event.

Locally generated early warning information may be more useful in that it reflects local weather characteristics and vegetation conditions. Active involvement of local communities in collecting fire-weather information and disseminating warnings will create ownership and increase local responsibility and the efficiency of the early warning system.

Forest and land management agencies, landowners and communities benefit from an early warning system that identifies critical periods of extreme fire danger in advance of their occurrence. Such early warning, particularly if delivered with high spatial and temporal resolution that incorporates measures of uncertainty and the likelihood of extreme conditions, allows fire managers to implement fire prevention, detection and preparedness plans before fire problems begin.

Strategic actions for fire danger rating and early warning systems include but are not limited to:

4.6 Fire preparedness, including technical training

Fire preparedness covers detection and response to fires. Preparedness includes training, equipping and staffing prior to the start of a fire. An effective fire preparedness programme should be based on fire and resource management planning and should take into account year-to-year variations in funding, weather and human activities. Properly trained and equipped personnel at the proper locations will increase the effectiveness of any programme.

Training is a key part of preparedness and readiness. The safety of firefighters is dependent on their understanding of fire characteristics and the local weather. Training in the effective use of equipment and fire suppression techniques is also important, while for supervisors and managers, training can help them better understand and effectively deploy a complex range of resources.

Providing proper equipment to firefighters is basic. Personal protective equipment such as helmets, gloves, fire-resistant clothing and safety boots should be considered an essential requirement of the programme. The tools used must enter within the financial resources of the programme, but they should be appropriate to the customs of the firefighters and effective in the local ecosystem.

Strategic actions for fire preparedness include but are not limited to:

4.7 Pre-fire-season activities

Additional activities need to be undertaken prior to the beginning of the fire season. These could be characterized as preparedness actions, but are differentiated from the previous section, which generally deals with actions to prepare resources. These pre-fire-season activities involve cooperative action with collaborators, contractors and other groups or organizations in support of the fire management programme. In many areas in which there is no clearly defined fire season, these activities will take place prior to predicted periods of elevated fire danger.

In many situations, entering into a formal agreement will provide a clear understanding of the roles and responsibilities of all partners. The agreement can take the form of an enforceable contract or it may be a memorandum of understanding that states the general areas in which cooperation and coordination will take place.

The holding of annual meetings can be specified in the agreement. This can be a very effective method of communication, ensuring that all parties receive consistent information and come to agreement. The annual meeting can be expanded to include exercises and simulations, test communications equipment and practise fire suppression techniques. Using a planned, cooperative approach will guarantee that consistent, complete information is provided to all personnel. See Annex 3 for an overview of items to be considered in preparing an agreement.

Strategic actions for pre-fire-season activities include but are not limited to:

4.8 Fire detection, communications and dispatching

Fire detection is an important part of an effective fire management programme. It can be accomplished in a variety of ways: satellite imagery, fire observation towers, aerial surveillance, lightning detection systems, or monitoring and reporting of fires by the local population. When local residents understand the risk and damage from unwanted, severe fires and participate in a community-based fire management programme, they are a very effective part of the overall system.

Once fires are detected, effective communications are needed to provide firefighters and managers with information on the location, size and burning conditions. Dispatch centres, equipped to operate with backup energy sources, receive information on fire ignitions and locations, alert fire suppression personnel and dispatch them to individual fires. Dispatchers provide regular communications to firefighters on changes in weather forecasts, fire behaviour, strategy and incident command structure. They monitor the fire situation and receive orders from the incident controller or commander for additional and backup resources.

Communication with the public is needed to inform them of the fire status and of threats to the community. Local media – radio, television and the press – as well as other traditional methods and emerging technologies of information dissemination need to be part of the total communications plan.

Strategic actions for fire detection, communications and dispatching include but are not limited to:

4.9 Initial attack/action

The initial attack is the first phase of fire suppression. The success of the entire fire management programme may be reflected in the success or failure of this phase of any fire. If the initial attack is successful, most other programme elements will also be successful. Without planning, policies, prevention, fuel management, community involvement and detection, the initial-attack phase will not succeed.

Initial-attack strategies and tactics should be designed to fit the local situation. Strategies based on local conditions, objectives for the area and budgets will determine the number, type, kind and location of a mix of resources: crews, engines, aircraft and other mechanized equipment. The fire management plan will provide firefighters with instructions on how fires are to be fought, whether some are to be allowed to burn to benefit the environment and resources, and what tactics and strategies should be used to protect ecosystems.

Tactics employed for an individual fire should follow policies for the area and be part of the fire management plan. Each action should be based on expected fire behaviour and the difficulty encountered in controlling the fire, as well as on the availability and effectiveness of local forces. Not only is this strategically important, it is critical to the safety of the firefighters and the general public.

There are several ways to provide for an initial-attack capability. Individuals, either by choice or because of the lack of any other fire protection service, can take on the responsibility using their own assets. Groups or agencies can be formed, funded, staffed and equipped by a government or other organization. Members of local communities can be established as a response group and be trained to be the first responders to fires. This can be an effective and efficient system. Volunteers may be part of an organization with a small core of permanently employed staff that perform maintenance and readiness activities. No matter how the initial-attack crews are provided, adequate training and planning should be part of a programme in which safety is the first consideration in all plans and actions. These crews and resources should use an operational system, such as ICS, that is flexible and can expand to manage fires that become larger and more complex (Annex 2).

Strategic actions for initial attack/action include but are not limited to:

4.10 Large-fire suppression and management

In many ecosystems, fires tend to become large due to an increase in fire intensity and rate of spread or area involved. When initial-attack resources are unable to contain the fire, a transition from initial to extended attack occurs as the fire continues to burn. A low-intensity, slow-spreading fire that is easily suppressed can transform itself quickly when environmental or meteorological conditions change. Initial-attack resources may be unable to manage the fire due to inexperience and lack of training, or simply because they are few in number and are overwhelmed by the magnitude of the fire.

Management of large fires can be very different during the transition from the initial- to the extended-attack phase of fire suppression. A ‘large-fire event’ is not defined so much by the size of the fire as by the duration and complexity. A fire in grasses and light fuel can spread to a relatively large size very quickly, but the suppression techniques may not be different from those of a very small fire. A fire that burns out quickly and does not exceed the capability of the initial- or extended-attack organization may not require a change in strategy or tactics.

While the complexity of the situation may require that fire suppression personnel shift from the initial or extended attack to a large-fire event, the agency should attempt to develop a system that does not require a complete change in management and organization. ICS was specifically developed to be used on any type of incident at any level of complexity and is an effective fire management tool.

At this point in a large-fire response, crews and supervisors may be challenged to use unfamiliar strategies and tactics and to implement a logistics and planning organization at a new and larger scale. All of this will be further complicated if communities and resources are threatened or destroyed and people are forced to evacuate.

Strategic actions for large-fire suppression and management include but are not limited to:

4.11 Managing multiple incidents

Some of the most difficult and complicated situations occur when multiple fires start simultaneously or when additional fires are discovered before the initial ones are brought under control. This situation is further complicated when the fires occur across several jurisdictions with different legislative or institutional management objectives. These cross-boundary incidents can impact local jurisdictions as well as national boundaries.

During periods of multiple fires, fire suppression resources may be depleted, requiring managers to allocate resources based on priorities and potential threats. Often the priorities for protection are widely varied, which makes it difficult to determine where fire suppression resources should be deployed. Moreover, these decisions are often made without access to adequate information. Setting up procedures in advance reduces the risks to health and safety and the potential damage to resources and communities.

In addition to preplanning these actions, an effective way to manage priority-setting during multiple incidents is to have established a coordinating group beforehand composed of senior managers from the agencies and organizations involved, including community groups. This group will meet during the emergency to set priorities and agree on critical areas of concern. However, it should also meet throughout the year to confer on all aspects of interagency or international concerns, such as standards, objectives, priorities and procedures for coordination and mutual assistance during emergencies.

Another important factor would be agreement to use ICS and to expand its scope as the number of fires increases and the impact expands to more jurisdictions. The ability to continue the same management structure at any level of complexity is important in critical periods.

Strategic actions for managing multiple incidents include but are not limited to:

4.12 Fuel management

In this section, ‘fuel management’ refers to all methods of fuel treatment and alteration for any purpose: fire risk reduction, community protection, ecosystem restoration and debris removal following logging or another activity. Mechanical treatments are those methods of moving, altering the arrangement, compacting or any other manipulation of the fuel by either mechanized equipment or using crews to accomplish the work manually. Any activity that changes the arrangement or composition of the fuel should be considered in the fuel treatment programme. The application of chemicals and resource management activities such as grazing and timber harvesting will change the fuel bed. These actions should be planned and implemented in full consideration of the potential to change fire intensity, spread and potential damage.

One other example in which fuel treatment activities can be an important part of a programme is in those areas in which homes and other buildings are adjacent to fire-prone vegetation. Homeowners can use a variety of methods to remove brush and debris from areas around homes – including carefully planned and implemented fires. Removing this combustible material will increase the chances that homes and communities will survive a fire. While fuel treatment activities may not reduce the occurrence of a fire, they will almost certainly reduce the intensity and thus increase the effectiveness of fire suppression tactics.

Strategic actions for fuel management include but are not limited to:

4.13 Planned fire

‘Planned fire’ is the deliberate use of fire to meet specific management objectives. The fuel can be live or dead. Some areas categorize planned burning done to protect communities as a prevention activity. While that is a valid description of that situation, all types of planned fire are covered in this section.

Planned fires are a very effective way to remove unwanted vegetation for a variety of objectives. Fire as a tool for agriculture, forestry, animal husbandry and land clearing is well established and commonly practised throughout the world. It is also important in maintaining healthy fire-dependent ecosystems. In these ecosystems, natural fire has a beneficial role and should be encouraged or managed as part of the total fire management programme.

The ecosystems and cultural areas in which fire is common can be very resilient to its effects. Flora may be rejuvenated by fire, rather than being displaced or destroyed, and consequently the fauna that depend on it as well. If the goal is to maintain or restore sustainable ecosystems and cultural areas, then a programme to allow burning for restoration and rehabilitation should be part of the overall fire management plan.

A critical part of any planned burning programme is mitigating the effects of smoke. An effective smoke management programme will be crucial in areas with legal mandates to provide clean air and protect citizens from respiratory threats. Partnership with the weather forecasting service may be important, since the service can issue forecasts specifically designed to provide guidance on the likely airshed impacts from specific burns. Such advice would assist the manager conducting the burn.

Strategic actions for planned fire include but are not limited to:

4.14 Burned area restoration and rehabilitation

There are immediate rehabilitation actions that can be undertaken in conjunction with fire suppression actions. A fire line constructed along a steep slope may be very prone to erosion and further damage if immediate steps to interrupt the flow of water are delayed. Fire suppression actions may damage the environment and may need to be avoided. Many actions that are effective in stopping a fire can severely impact other resources, such as soils, wetlands, habitats and vegetation. The impacts are often long term or can promote the spread of disease, weeds and other exotic pests.

Replanting and reseeding of sensitive areas can stop an invasion by exotic and invasive species that would take advantage of a large expanse of exposed soil. In this case, the presence of the exotic species in the ecosystem may require actions that are unnecessary in areas without this species.

Engaging suppression crews in rehabilitation activities can have the advantage of teaching them which suppression techniques are most damaging to the ecosystem and, in some cases, make possible the implementation of mitigation measures in conjunction with suppression actions. For example, a crew using hand tools to construct fire lines can construct water bars along the fire line at the time of initial construction, which will reduce the potential for erosion.

In planted or natural forests in which commercial activities are planned, economic considerations may dictate an aggressive salvage and removal programme for damaged timber or other products and an extensive reforestation plan. In the context of the management plan for the area, economics may be the overriding consideration when communities are dependent on forests as a source of revenue and livelihoods.

Strategic actions for burned area restoration and rehabilitation include but are not limited to:

4.15 Monitoring and assessment

Monitoring and assessment are important at several levels. Monitoring of the effects of both fires and suppression activities is needed in order to achieve a balance between stopping the fire and protecting the resource. Monitoring the effectiveness of the fire organization will help managers determine if the programme is working. Cost/benefit assessments are useful in assessing the effectiveness of various types of resources.

Effective monitoring and assessment of the prevention programme can reduce the occurrence of specifically identified types of fires and the costs of suppression.

Strategic actions for monitoring and assessment include but are not limited to:

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