I heard a radio interview earlier this week about the challenges facing those fighting wildfires. A journalist covering the topic shared her belief that it is inevitable that we will lose firefighters in our race to protect forests, structures and the public. Was I alone, wearing my safety professional hat, to be disturbed by this comment? Many of us have been in the safety business long enough to remember when we heard the same comment applied to construction workers working at heights. We know now, that with appropriate planning, training and equipment, no construction worker should die on the job.
As our lands get drier and fires burn hotter, all more closely encroaching on areas where we live and work, what else can we do to best protect these men and women working tirelessly to protect us and the land that we love? I am no fire expert. Traditional emergency response identifies our response priorities to be: 1) life, followed by environment and property or product protection. Most of our firefighters love what they do – and they do it well. Wildland firefighting has always been an unpredictable business – something as common as quick shifting winds creating scary traps. As we have multiple fires burning for longer periods of time, our resources become strapped. Are we to expect these challenges to become even more difficult to address as our climate gets hotter and drier?
We thank those working so hard to protect what we love. We grieve for Tom, Andrew and Richard, and their families and friends. We are hopeful that safety and incident command experts can help us imagine a time when we don’t believe it inevitable to lose a firefighter during our hot fire seasons.