USA – There aren’t nearly as many emergency firefighters in Alaska as there used to be. The 49th state has a mere 20 emergency firefighting crews this year across both state and federal firefighting agencies. That’s down from more than 70 crews at the height of the emergency firefighting program in the 1980s and 1990s and down five crews from last year alone.
Emergency firefighters are 20-member crews who are sometimes referred to as village crews because they’re often staffed by and named after remote Alaska communities. They provide a rare source of cash income in the rural economy and, even in their reduced numbers, they still make up the bulk of the wildfire fighting force in Alaska for the state and federal governments.
But the emergency firefighting program has changed in big ways in recent years, as national standards increase medical and other standards for employment. It is expected to change even more in 2019 as parts of the program switch to private contractors.
From a fire protection standpoint, the declining number of on-call firefighters hasn’t been a problem.
Hudson Plass, who coordinates the emergency firefighter program for the Bureau of Land Management’s Alaska Fire Service, has calculated the average number of assignments for emergency firefighters in both in-state and Lower 48 fires. He said 20 crews is a good number.