Fighting wildland fires is a very hazardous job. Firefighters who have worked these fires since the early 1900s have created innovative solutions to working these fires in difficult weather conditions and terrain, starting with the invention of the Pulaski (a firefighting tool). Crew leader Ed Pulaski created it after his harrowing experience in the “Big Burn,” a wildfire that burned almost three million acres in the Northwest in which he lost five of his forty-man crew. Other innovations include development of the types of engines used to work large wildfires that provide the stability and maneuverability necessary when fighting fires in hazardous terrain.
New data-driven tools are currently being developed to help wildland firefighters not only ensure their own safety but also be able to manage wildfires more efficiently by directing resources where they are most needed, better understand the direction of fire spread as well as what areas of a community are at the highest risk of loss. Barona Reservation’s Fire Department uses data to help them work together with mutual aid fire companies by incorporating information from their pre-fire plans, road conditions, water supplies, structure locations and weather conditions.
Another data driven technology that wildland firefighters are beginning to use is a way of managing social media for incident commanders during a large wildfire event. Historically, the emergency response community has leveraged multiple data sources, including land mobile radios, maps, computer-aided dispatch, crisis management systems, traffic cameras, geographic information systems, and windshield assessments to collect information. Now, responders can leverage social media as well, both to communicate and to gather and share real-time, dynamic information to enhance situational awareness and assist in decision making. Imagine an incident commander having real-time information collected for him about the location of people trapped in their homes, livestock in need of evacuation and other information such as videos of changing directions of smoke columns that have been compiled and vetted for his use in real time?
Social media use for emergency management is in its infancy and is regarded by FEMA and other emergency management organizations as being a critical new component of situational awareness in the event of an emergency event. Volunteers have been trained in some areas such as with VOST and CERTS to manage social media for emergency responders and provide information they request as well as disseminate accurate information from emergency responders to the public such as accurate information about evacuation routes. FEMA has also developed a community platform organized already for SMEM users that vets the users in the event of an incident and has developed training for emergency managers to do so.
With the increasing frequency and size of wildfires, new data-driven tools to manage these incidents will become an integral part of wildfire management. NFPA’s Wildfire Division has developed some new tools that can be shared by fire prevention officers with their communities to assist with their pre-fire planning, including a Firewise Toolkit, Backpack Go kit for youth from grades 6-12, and virtual field trips about wildfire with accompanying lesson plans.