A new era in wildfire response

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IFE CEO Steve Hamm highlights the global imperative to combat increasing wildfires across the globe

Increasing wildfires are posing a profound threat to communities, tourists, and the local environment.

Climate change is leading to more frequent and intense wildfire occurrences, emphasising our need to take a proactive stance.

As I delve into this pressing issue, it’s clear that fire and rescue services need to re-evaluate and enhance their strategies to confront this escalating crisis directly.

The devastating wildfires in Greece finally subsided at the end of July after burning for nearly a fortnight, with popular travel spot, Rhodes, being the worst affected by the blazes.

More than 20,000 tourists and locals were forced to flee seaside hotels and houses, and around 10 per cent of the island was scorched.

Additionally, August saw more than 1,000 people evacuated in southern Portugal, where a wildfire spread across huge swathes of land in one of the country’s popular tourist destinations.

Around 800 firefighters tackled the blaze. Scorching 16,560 acres of land, the local fire and rescue services were forced to evacuate people in its path as a precautionary measure.

Wildfire response: Fire mapping and technology utilisation

With wildfires escalating globally, it’s crucial for fire and rescue services (FRS) to harness advanced technologies to map and monitor fire incidents more accurately.

Geographic Information System (GIS) technology, remote sensing, and satellite imagery can significantly improve fire mapping capabilities.

Integrating these tools allows responders to have real-time access to crucial data, including fire spread, hotspots, and areas at risk.

Accurate fire mapping empowers responders to allocate resources strategically, ensuring timely and effective action to protect lives and local infrastructure.

Additionally, the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or drones can revolutionise wildfire management, and drones equipped with thermal imaging cameras can detect hidden fires and provide situational awareness in remote areas.

Working alongside artificial intelligence (AI), we can enhance the analysis of fire patterns and predict fire behaviours, allowing responders to stay one step ahead of the flames.

With the UK experiencing soaring temperatures over recent years, wildfires are becoming an increasing threat and forcing FRSs in rural locations to develop and trial new training materials.

Northamptonshire FRS saw a large number of grass and crop fires last year, placing a huge demand on responders, resulting in a 76 per cent increase in wildfire incidents during July and August.

The service reviewed its response to wildfires and has introduced new wildfire backpacks on all frontline appliances.

The backpacks can carry up to 20 litres of water and can be used in areas that are inaccessible for a fire engine.

Responder Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

As wildfires grow in intensity, responder safety becomes paramount. Ensuring that firefighters have access to state-of-the-art Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is crucial to safeguarding their well-being.

Traditional firefighting PPE may not provide adequate protection against the extreme conditions in wildfire environments and calls for enhanced breathing apparatus.

Competency and training

To respond effectively to the increasing scale and complexity of wildfires, FRSs must prioritise ongoing training and competency development for their personnel.

Wildfires demand a unique set of skills and expertise that go beyond conventional firefighting techniques.

Training should encompass various aspects, including wildfire behaviour, incident command systems, and wildfire-specific suppression strategies.

Responders must be educated on the importance of collaboration and integration with other agencies, such as forestry services and local authorities, to ensure a cohesive and coordinated response.

Community outreach

Beyond the efforts of fire and rescue services, fostering community awareness is essential in mitigating the impact of wildfires.

Educating residents about fire risks, evacuation procedures, and defensible space measures can significantly reduce vulnerability.

Fire departments should actively engage with communities to conduct drills, workshops, and information sessions on wildfire safety.

Encouraging the adoption of Firewise principles and community-based fire prevention initiatives can create a more resilient society capable of responding proactively to wildfire threats.

The surge in wildfires due to climate change demands a shift in how fire and rescue services prepare and respond to these events.

By leveraging cutting-edge technologies and enhancing training and competency, we can create robust response methods to protect lives, property, and the environment.

Additionally, fostering community engagement and preparedness will create a united front against the escalating threat of wildfires.

The Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE) remains committed to driving global professional competency and advocating for measures that safeguard our communities from the challenges posed by climate-driven wildfires.

Together, through collaboration and innovation, we can build a safer and more resilient future.

To learn more about the IFE visit www.ife.org.uk.

IFSJ perspective

In recent times, the wildfire narrative has escalated from isolated events to global crises.

As a leading voice in the fire and safety sector, IFSJ recognises that climate change has played a role in the irrevocably altered the wildfire paradigm.

Events in Hawaii, Canada, Greece and Portugal are emblematic of the widespread devastation wildfires can wreak, impacting both ecosystems and economies.

The demand for innovation in fire management has never been more acute. Cutting-edge tools, such as GIS technologies and UAVs integrated with thermal imaging and AI, can significantly reshape our response strategies. However, technology alone isn’t the panacea.

We commend Northamptonshire FRS for their forward-thinking adaptations and underscore the imperative of specialised training, equipping responders with nuanced skills tailored to the multifaceted challenges of wildfires.

Yet, an often under-emphasized pillar in our arsenal against wildfires is community engagement.

Fostering a culture of preparedness, awareness, and proactive defence at the grassroots level can drastically mitigate risks.

Our collective response to this escalating crisis should be as interconnected and pervasive as the fires themselves.

Only through holistic strategies can we hope to counteract this incendiary threat to our global community.

The IFE’s commitment reflects the urgency of this global imperative, emphasising the necessity of collaboration and innovation in building a resilient future.

This exclusive article was originally published in the September 2023 issue of International Fire & Safety Journal. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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