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Private firefighters' role growing in state

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  • #16
    Originally posted by drparasite View Post
    it's always been a case where the rich can afford more stuff.
    Yet they are usually the stingiest and the least willing to pay for municipal services.
    Crazy, but that's how it goes
    Millions of people living as foes
    Maybe it's not too late
    To learn how to love, and forget how to hate

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    • #17
      Originally posted by NCalElias View Post
      There are two major iterations of contract/private firefighting, and their roles in wildland firefighting are quite different. The more traditional form is where companies such as Firestorm (mentioned in the article) have their roots and is quite prominent in the Pacific Northwest while it hasn't been received as well in California. They contract engine companies, hand crews, and just about anything else an incident could need (aircraft, camp support, etc), and especially in the latter examples are extremely dominant. There's long been controversy over these contractors providing firefighters on engines and hand crews, and there are quite a few valid concerns in this realm. Essentially these companies train and equip their personnel, which renders quite a few problems, both with firefighters who are inadequately equipped (why was a rookie firefighter on a hand crew allowed to go anywhere near a fire with only two water bottles) and even worse, inadequately trained. Not to point fingers, but while some of these companies take their training and equipment very seriously, some don't. To speak anecdotally, I've sat through a 40-hour that was essentially a joke... very little information was provided, even less received, and in reality not a single person in the class left the room knowing anything more than when they entered it. This 40-hour is the basic firefighter training - and a cornerstone of our safety programs. To have the instructors cluelessly stick a video about helicopter pilot PPE in the VCR, leave, and come back about 45 minutes after it ended to discuss it (they hadn't realized it was that irrelevant), was to say, ridiculous. The class as a whole ran along those lines. While not such an issue this far south, there have been concerns about language barriers in the Pacific Northwest, and in these have led to serious safety issues though work has been done to mitigate this problem. Some of these crews have very poor work ethics, while many have excellent work ethics - and that has a lot to do with the leadership. A common complaint of supervisory agency personnel has been the need to babysit many of these crews, basically saying that they have serious concerns about the competency and safety of these crews. These concerns are not unfounded, though once again I don't wish to point fingers or blame names at this point. Drug usage among private firefighters is very problematic, and my experience... well, I don't know a whole lot of them who don't have a favorite illegal substance. Smoking marijuana on the fireline is completely unacceptable. It happens. Another major concern is to understand that these contract firefighters are only paid when they're on a fire. No fires, no cash. From time to time, there's been issues where contractors, to put it nicely, have made work for themselves.

      However, with some "privatize the government" agendas that have been running around lately, don't expect this to go away anytime soon. The USFS is a wreck and the firefighters are acutely aware of it. I can assure you that I wrote pay and benefits on my exit interview (even if it was medical aids and structure fires that really got me to leave). The high-ups in the Forest Service don't want to fix it - they deny that problems exist even as high-level congressmen call them out on their bluffs. In all sincerity, I believe they truly desire for the greatest wildland fire service in this country to collapse - then they can privatize everything in this business.

      The other form of private firefighting is much newer, and I'm still a little uncertain on exactly what they're doing. My understanding is that insurance companies are hiring engines to spray retardant on expensive homes prior to the fire's arrival. That essentially they don't put out any fire, but simply make homes more defensible and less receptive to firebrands and leave before the fire ever arrives. Sounds like a good idea, but we need to be certain that it's coordinated through the ICS and that safety of these personnel is a priority.

      PS - Most of the money on the Cal-Fire side is probably going to local fire departments and the handful of county agencies. They're not too keen on the contractors.
      your experience with contract crews is a little different from mine --I worked on a contract type 6 engine that primarily contracted with the USFS and some with the BIA -most of the contract engine crews were usually retired usfs /active or retired municipal firefighters --- most were EMTs or medics we all had to pass the pack test and have worked a task book to achieve our level of training. Several times my boss had to step up and assume a strike team leader position as the federal agencies were scrambling to fill that spot. As a contractor we generally went through a more thorough inspection of our engine -we failed safety once due to one clearance light being out. The biggest difference between us and an agency engine was the fact that as a contractor we were judged on our performance on the line.
      ?

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      • #18
        Originally posted by drparasite View Post
        it's always been a case where the rich can afford more stuff.
        Duh. That's my goal, to be able to afford more stuff. But I don't go generalizing and whining about what I don't have.

        But back to the main point, if these crews can't speak English, it's time to dump them. That should be a REQUIREMENT for getting contracted.

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