TBT: Wally Bennett: "We’ve got a lot less of the toys we need to do the job"

For Throwback Thursday we are revisiting an article published February 28, 2008 about an issue that is still before us today.

At a three-day conference organized by FireSafe Montana, Wally Bennett, a Type 1 Incident Commander, told the group that climate change and fewer air tankers and hand crews are making the job of wildland firefighters more difficult.

From the Bozeman Daily Chronicle:

“Coming summers will bring more and bigger wildfires to the Northern Rockies. But it also will bring fewer firefighters, less equipment for them to use, and more and more homes to protect in flammable landscapes.

That’s the message spelled out Tuesday by climate and firefighting experts at a conference at the Bozeman Holiday Inn.

“We’ve got a lot less of the toys we need to do the job we’re doing out there,” said Wally Bennett, a veteran commander of a Type I incident command team, the type of force that tackles large and complex blazes.

Bennett was one of the speakers at the three-day conference organized by FireSafe Montana, a fledgling nonprofit group that is trying to motivate landowners, county governments, developers and other entities to do more to protect private land before wildfire reaches it.

Several years ago, Bennett said, firefighting teams had 32 large retardant planes available to them. Last year, they had 16.

The number of 20-person hand teams has declined from roughly 750 to about 450 over the same time period, he said, and that number is likely to fall further.

“There’s not enough to go around,” he said.

That’s partly because a rookie firefighter can earn about the same pay flipping burgers at McDonald’s.

Meanwhile, a warming climate is bringing earlier snowmelt along with hotter, drier summers, said Faith Anne Heisch, a climate researcher who works with Steve Running, the University of Montana professor who was part of the Nobel-prize winning International Panel on Climate Change.”

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

4 thoughts on “TBT: Wally Bennett: "We’ve got a lot less of the toys we need to do the job"”

  1. The atmospheric conditions that accompany these wind events needs to be studied.
    In addition to fuels, wind is the common factor that most of these deadly fires include. While more stuff is helpful, it won’t save us when we are dealing with these winds that turn wildfires into blow torches.

    1. Wind replaces lost oxygen and preheats fuel farther away and to a higher temperature (radiation and convection) than no wind?

  2. No amount of fire fighting toys will stop these fires during the wind events. Only weather change can stop them once they get going.

  3. Yep. Have budget requests gone unheeded? It seems characteristic of large organizations, particularly government, that such requests are often denied. It is not uncommon for them to be made in the first place. However, I frequently am puzzled when I see how assets are employed to carry out questionable strategies and tactics.


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