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Welcome to the Firefighter Safety Online Course!

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Welcome and Goals of the Course

The Firefighter Safety Series is a multipart information package from the National Wildland/Urban Interface Fire Program. It addresses problems faced by structural and wildland firefighters when fighting fires, especially those threatening structures in the wildland/urban interface. An important goal is to improve knowledge of firefighter safety and survival issues.

Some of the material in the Firefighter Safety Series was originally prepared in the late 1980s and early 1990s in video and print form and published by the National Wildland/Urban Interface Fire Program. That material has been completely updated and new material has been added.

National Wildland/Urban Interface Fire Program

The National Wildland/Urban Interface Program is made up of organizations committed to reducing the toll of structures lost in the wildland/urban interface, and to reducing the toll of firefighters deaths and injuries. Fires in the wildland/urban interface bring together the separate suppression forces of local, state, and federal wildland agencies. Inherent differences in these forces provide challenges in incident command, tactics, communications, and the use of equipment. The message of the sponsoring agencies and of this educational project is to encourage planning and training to occur before the next big emergency and to be more cautious when approaching any interface fire.

The presence of structures in the interface is what causes all of the different forces to have a need to act together during a major fire, and the number of structures in the interface is always increasing. All structural and wildland firefighters feel a special pressure when homes and other structures are threatened by a wildland fire. But this pressure should never be reason for using any unwise and unsafe practices.

Origin of the program

It has been a continuous trend in the history of this country for many people to migrate both to the cities where they found economic advantages and also to the less-settled wildlands with their lower population density and scenic beauty.

But changing lifestyles, especially becoming noticeable in the 1980s, accelerated a trend that saw more and more people wanting to escape the crime and crowding of cities and large suburbs. In increasing numbers, they chose to relocate to "safer" area with the scenic beauty or privacy of wildland areas.

Many of the new residents of the wildlands did not fully understand that fire was a natural part of the ecology. The existing forms of fire protection, in which fire departments trained and equipped to fight structure fires that were common in the cities and suburbs, and natural resource agencies trained and equipped to fight the vegetation fires found in wildland areas had to make adjustments. The areas where the increasing density of structures were interspersed in the wildland vegetation created a new challenge for the specialized structural and wildland firefighters. By 1985 interface fires reached crisis proportions, consuming record amounts of private structures as well as private natural resources.

Early in 1986, representatives from the USDA Forest Service, United States Fire Administration, the National Fire Protection Association, and others met to discuss the issues. They formed what is today the National Wildland/Urban Interface Fire Program. An early focus was on promoting interagency cooperation in fighting the alarming trend. That focus is still important; to it has been added a continuous concern about structure protection and firefighter safety in interface fires. New organizations with similar interests on the national level joined the program, including the National Wildfire Coordinating Group, four agencies of the United States Department of the Interior, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Association of State Foresters, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the National Emergency Management Association, and the National Association of State Fire Marshals.

Throughout the 1990s the National Wildland/Urban Interface Fire Program expanded its educational outreach efforts to two diverse audiences: the public, especially the homeowners who lived in the interface and faced the real dangers of fire; and the firefighters and their leaders of the separate wildland and structural fire agencies, who needed a better understanding of the special challenges presented by fires in the interface.

You can see through the representative websites what the sponsoring organizations have offered in response to the challenges. Much other progress has been made in the form of new research, educational publications and brochures, videos, public meetings, and improved interagency communications and cooperation. But the year 2000 served as a reminder that much still needed to be done. Although the firefighters were better trained than ever, and fire agencies were better prepared than ever, the natural force of wildland fire proved more powerful than ever.

This educational course continues the emphasis on the three critical aspects of fire protection in the interface: fire behavior, structure protection, and firefighter safety.