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. 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.
UPDATE September 6, 2012:
The organizational change did in fact occur. Here is an excerpt from the Colorado Forest Service web site:
Wildfire Command and Control Transitions from the Colorado State Forest Service to the Department of Public Safety
The State of Colorado is in the process of centralizing all of the state’s fire-management functions into a single, statewide point of contact for fire management, command and control.
This move involves relocating the fire management functions of the Colorado State Forest Service and the Division of Emergency Management, located in the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, to the Colorado Department of Public Safety (CDPS) by July 1, 2012.
Colorado State University and the Colorado State Forest Service fully support this move and are working closely with CDPS to ensure that, as a state, we are optimally positioned to protect Colorado’s citizens, communities, infrastructure and important natural resources during wildfires.
The forest management, research, education and outreach aspects of the Colorado State Forest Service remain at CSU and are fully available to agencies, organizations and landowners where integration and application of this knowledge adds value.
Thanks go out to Christian