Colorado governor intends to remove wildfire suppression responsibilities from university

Colorado governor intends to remove wildfire suppression responsibilities from university

23 April 2012

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USA — The Colorado Forest Service and the Texas Forest Service have similar organizations in that they both report to universities, Colorado State University and Texas A&M University respectively. Colorado state firefighters report to leaders at the University. I have always thought this was strange, and apparently the Governor of Colorado agrees, especially in the wake of the escaped Lower North Fork prescribed fire in which three residents were killed at their homes. Governor John Hickenlooper today proposed moving the wildland firefighting and prescribed fire responsibilities to the Colorado Department of Public Safety.

Governor Hickenlooper said “We want to have it in one place, with an agency that is used to dealing with situations where minutes matter”. He wants to streamline the decision making as well as the dispatching and managing of firefighters.

Under the proposal Colorado State University would retain responsibilities for Forest Service research.

Paul Cook, the executive director of the Colorado State Fire Chiefs Association supports the reorganization and said he has been pushing for the change since the 1994 South Canyon fire in which 14 wildland firefighters died.

During one of my assignments as a Fire Management Officer, my fire organization was in the Resource Management division, rather than in a division with other emergency service functions such as law enforcement. Like in Colorado, the Resource Management division was not used to functioning or making decisions “when minutes matter”. They didn’t know what they didn’t know about emergency management, but justified the structure because we did a lot of prescribed fire, and we coordinated quite a bit with the ‘ologists. But that coordination could have been done just about as easily (when minutes did not matter) if we had been in another division.

So, if Governor John Hickenlooper or Texas Governor Rick Perry ask for my opinion about moving wildfire management to the same department as emergency services, I strongly support it. I won’t be holding my breath waiting for the call, though.

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