Would You Fight Fires Alone? – State Forest Firefighters Are Begging For Back-up!

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Florida Public Employees

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February 20, 2014

Monday Florida Legislators heard compelling statements from the Florida State Fire Service Association (representing the more than 400 Wildland Firefighters in the state of Florida) begging for one major change in the workplace this session;

“Please stop sending us to wildfires alone!”

In opening remarks by private attorneys representing the State compared Florida’s wildfire responses to other southern states and stated National Standards for Firefighters do not apply to “forestry firefighters”.  They also compared these firefighters to “Child protective investigators” as to the high risk nature applies to a lot of state employees and “we can’t go doubling them all up”.  – Mike Mattimore, Chief Labor Negotiator for the Governor Rick Scott.

During opening statements the agency representative stressed a cost of only $2.9 million to implement this change in procedures.  Florida Forest Service Director Jim Karels says the increased staffing mandate is not necessary, because the lowest-risk fires only require “one firefighter” — and; if he sends two to one fire, it’s possible nobody will be available when the next one breaks out.  “Safety-wise, purely, if I can send two firefighters to every fire every time with no other decisions,

Mike Mattimore

Mike Mattimore

I’m good with that. But we’ve got to look at it on effectiveness and efficiency too,” he says.

Rep. Mike Clelland (D-Lake Mary) says his experience as a career firefighter and former chief makes him question the department’s refusal.  “I just can’t imagine one person responding to a forest fire or a brush fire,” he says. “I spent my whole adult life in the fire service.”

The Florida State Fire Services Association is asking for a minimum of two Wildland Firefighters to be on a wildfire at all times – one to act as an incident commander and backup for the firefighter fighting the fire.  Below is the proposed language presented by the Wildland Firefighters;

            FIREFIGHTER SAFETY IN THE WORKPLACE

SECTION 1 – Minimum staffing requirements

(A)     At least two agency Wildland Firefighters will be dispatched to all wildland fires at all times and will be referred to as a crew. 

(B)     For the purposes of dispatching Wildland Firefighting resources, a crew is defined as at minimum any two (2) certified Wildland Firefighting personnel.  One (1) Firefighter shall be capable of performing as an Initial Attack Incident Commander (IAIC) on scene at the incident.  The 2nd separate firefighter dispatched will perform firefighting operations under the supervision of the IAIC.

Rep. Mike Clelland

Rep. Mike Clelland

(C)     The IAIC will conduct an initial assessment of the incident and size up.  Importantly, the IAIC is to use his/her judgment based on training and experience in deciding whether to safely engage the incident with the crew on scene or request additional resources.  The IAIC will assume the duties of Command and Safety Officer until relieved on the incident in accordance with agency policies.

(D)     Bargaining unit members will not be dispatched or respond to a wildfire alone at any time without additional personnel onscene to perform the duties of Initial Attack Incident Commander (IAIC).

The entire video can be seen at the Florida Channel website by CLICKING HERE

Tommy Price, President of the Florida State Fire Service Association commented,  “It really is amazing that when presented with a major safety concern like this of sending a firefighter alone to a fire at any time, someone in the Governor’s Office or DMS could not address the issue at their level and now these state firefighters have to go to the Legislator and beg them for this change…  During the process we agreed to almost everything the state wanted, we offered ways to make this happen, but nothing worked during negotiations, nothing.  Hopefully Legislators will see through the smoke and mirrors and feel the same way we do on the subject, that sending a firefighter to a wildfire alone anytime where help could be 30 minutes away or hours is wrong and needs to be corrected”.

Farley R. Sayer, retired Wildland Firefighter, recounts: “As a former Florida D.O.F Wildland firefighter let me say this . I responded to many fire as a single resource and it would have been great to have someone on the other flank.  Not only would the fire been controlled sooner; they would have been there if something happened to me.  I see their response was, it would ‘tie up’ someone who may be needed on another fire.”

Sayer added: “Let me put this out there: As a single resource on a 25 acre fire one night, the wind shifted as I was headed up the right flank of this fire. I wasn’t even half way up the flank, so now I’m on the rear of a 50 acre fire.  Had there been another firefighter, we could have pinched this thing off.

They worry about tying up resources. It required another District, 6 more dozers, 2 engines and extra Supervisors and took over 12 extra hours to put out what ended up being an 800 acre fire.  Oh no, let’s not “tie up” one more firefighter when we can commit dozens later.  Fill free to show this to the powers that be.” –  Farley R. Sayer – FF/ E.M.T. – Reg. 4 W.F.M.T. ( Retired ) .

 

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