Indonesia: District-Level Fire Management Centres (IFFN No. 23)

Twelve Fire Management Centres at District Level within the Province of East Kalimantan, Indonesia

(IFFN No. 23 – December 2000, p. 60-62)

East Kalimantan remains poorly prepared to deal with vegetation fires on the scale experienced during the drought of 1997 and 1998. A similar picture exists in the other provinces of Kalimantan and in Sumatra: few fire crews with poor command and communications structures, insufficient firefighting equipment, and inadequate training.

The German-funded Integrated Forest Fire Management and Control Project (IFFM), working with the Provincial Office of the Ministry and Forestry and Estate Crops (MoFEC) in the Province of East Kalimantan, has identified the provision of support to Forestry Districts Offices (Cabang Dinas Kehutanan Tk. II) as the most effective way to strengthen fire fighting capacity – and fire prevention – in the immediate future.

A selective approach to firefighting which gives priority to the District level

The areas potentially at risk are great. There are three categories of land that require priority protection, each of which has a particular management requirement:

  • Virgin forests and conservation areas: forest guards from the Ministry of Forestry MoFEC (Kanwil Kehutanan dan Perkebunan, Dinas Kehutanan and Dinas Perkebunan).
  • Commercial forest areas with timber concessions and forest plantations (HPH, HPHTI) and estate crops: fire management plans (following the example of the timber concession PT. Limbang Ganeca in East Kalimantan).
  • Zones near to villages: volunteer firefighters and NGOs (the villagers have an extensive knowledge of fire as it is used in traditional land clearing).

The Districts (Kabupaten Tingkat II) are the key to the formation of an effective system of fire prevention and control within each Province. The District Forestry Head Offices must be quickly and strongly supported to enable them to provide effective implementation in the field.

Fire crews, equipment and training

Far too little attention has been paid to the practicalities of firefighting in Indonesia. During the last years, it became clear that little importance is being given to the organisation of firefighting and to training and equipment at the field level.

Setting up an efficient fire control organization will take considerable time and funds – more than to install high technology systems – but if nothing exists on the ground, what use are satellites and computers?

Sophisticated techniques, such as Fire Danger Rating Systems, can help firefighters to anticipate risks, but… in many places fire crews do not yet exist in the field.

The fire crews

The fire crews are the foundation of any system to prevent and control fire. Without them, all the provided high technology is useless. The primary need is to form, train and equip District level fire crews.

Step by step, fire bosses and crews will be more successful. Along the way, they will obtain the recognition from the authorities and the community that is so necessary to gain high motivation and good results.


Field experience has shown the necessity to keep equipment simple, compatible and adaptable. Over-complex equipment is never used or is quickly broken. Fire equipment, especially pumps, cannot be distributed without training.

For their safety, the firefighters need proper protective gear.

There is an urgency to constitute, at the national or ASEAN level, a study group to determine and define appropriate standards for firefighting equipment:

  • Individual protective equipment (helmets, clothes, boots, gloves)
  • Robust, simple and effective hand tools (rake-hoe for fire lines), backpack pumps
  • Motor pumps, fire hoses and junction parts (all compatible)
  • Adaptable fire tankers (small trucks) and supplementary kits (slip-on tank units)

Standardization will avoid money being wasted on the purchase of equipment that is too complex or slow during use, that is incompatible with other equipment, and that is sometimes hazardous to firefighters. It is incumbent on donors to adhere to the agreed standards.

Training: Fire fighting depends on well-trained crews kept in practice with regular theoretical and practical courses. The IFFM GTZ project (East Kalimantan) and FFPCP European Union project (South Sumatra) have prepared joint guidelines to train forest firefighters. Managerial staff need more advanced training in forest fire management, forest firefighting and ‘tactical reasoning’. They also need an effective radio system adapted for use in fire management. The strategic pyramidal organization and the tactical chain of command are concepts which remain to be developed, but whose absence must not hinder field level development.

First Aid knowledge and training is essential in case of accident. Firefighters must be able to rescue their injured colleagues, or wounded civilians.

Discipline is necessary for firefighting campaigns that require numerous personnel for many days. On a large scale, fire control must be conducted with methods and discipline that resemble to .paramilitary procedures.

Twelve Fire Management Centres at District Level

The prime need is to form, train and equip District level fire crews; the foundation of any future system. To this end IFFM has advised on team formation and provided training within the Province. Crew safety is considered paramount: the necessity for protective clothing, risk avoidance and first-aid are stressed. Once understood, training continues in the choice and use of equipment to suppress vegetation fires, and in basic fighting tactics.

With a special grant from the German Development Bank (KfW), twelve Fire Management Centres will be supported in East Kalimantan; ten Forestry Districts Offices and two National Parks. For their efficiency and safety, each fire centre will receive adapted firefighting equipment and proper protective gear;

  • Slip-on tank units with pick-up, tank trucks and crew carriers
  • Portable power motor pumps, fire hoses and portable tanks
  • Backpack pumps, chain saws and hand tools, individual protective equipment (helmets, clothes, boots, gloves, goggles)

The twelve Fire Centres will be also equipped with computers, printers and Internet E-mail system allowing them to receive information as Fire Danger Rating or maps with located fires (hot spots from satellite). Increased success brings recognition from authorities and community and, with this, increased motivation and achievement.

In the longer term there is a need to establish a national fire management organisation which encompasses both prevention and control. Modern methods to anticipate and manage risk, allocate resources, and deal with crises are needed if periodic smoke and haze events are to be avoided. Such an organisation will need continued, substantial donor support. For now, well-trained, simply-equipped district level teams are an effective and realistic beginning.

A modern fire management organization for both prevention and control

Everybody agrees that now is the time to:

  • “Make the decisions when the house is not burning”.
  • “Catalyze action when it is not an emergency”.
  • Put in place an institutional structure before the next El Niño.
  • Reinforce application of the laws.
  • Include firefighting methods and equipment within all the different action plans.

There is a need to establish a modern fire management organisation founded on strong, practical District-based solutions. Prevention and control cannot be dissociated. It is necessary to organize an effective command structure, through a single responsible Ministry, with indispensable links to the other concerned authorities and partners: military, police, and the chain ‘Governor – Head of District (Bupati) – Head of Sub-District (Camat) – Head of Village (Kepala Desa)’.

Methods to anticipate and manage risk, to allocate resources, and to deal with crises are needed if periodic severe fires and smoke haze events are to be avoided. From the theory, and using the existing regulations at National and Provincial levels, we must now move quickly to activate field level implementation.

Contact address

Marc V.J. Nicolas
South/Central Kalimantan Production Forest Project
Jalan A.Yano Km 35. No 37-38
Banjabaru 70711 KalSel

Tel. +62-511-781 975
Fax +62-511-781 613


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