How do we make decisions in high risk and high consequence environments? This was the key question that presenters sought to answer at the 14th Wildland Fire Safety Summit in Barcelona on January 31. Co-produced by the International Association of Wildland Fire (IAWF) and the Pau Costa Foundation, the one-day conference was packed with valuable information given in a series of thought-provoking talks and a collection of posters from researchers and practitioners from Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Ireland, Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, Ghana, South Africa and the United States.
Marc Castellenou, Pau Costa Foundation president and Spanish firefighter/fire analyst, opened the day with a call to action, challenging participants to be self-critical and keep open minds about changing the firefighting culture to one where safety is not merely an operational protocol but truly embedded everywhere in the command structure.
Sessions ranged from case studies from wildland-urban fires on the island of Madeira, to the challenge of trans-boundary communication within Europe on large fires that affect two or more countries simultaneously, to the potential for new technology to change the way fire crews move safely and effectively. Despite a significant emphasis on fire operations and firefighter safety, it was clear that practitioners and researchers alike recognized the need for information and knowledge to inform better decisions to multiple stakeholders – from residents to elected officials to land managers.
My NFPA colleague Hylton Haynes and I presented on two pertinent recent studies by NFPA. I spoke to the new NFPA report, Wildland/Urban Interface: Fire Department Wildfire Preparedness and Readiness Capabilities. Hylton (pictured above) discussed the key findings related to WUI and wildland fire from the recently completed Fourth Needs Assessment of the US Fire Service. In listening to the presenters who preceded us in the program, we were encouraged by a number of studies that have been using qualitative techniques focused on story-telling, and the connection to community engagement that seemed to be a part of all of the presentations from experts from around the world. These included US efforts to capture the influence of firefighting experience on expectations of wildfire behavior; after-action reviews in Spain involving the whole community; and an experiential learning technique being tested in New Zealand to help new recruits learn from their peers before going into the field.
I’ll be reporting more about the subsequent related two-day conference, the International Congress on Prescribed Fire, occurring on February 1-2 and a planned Firewise workshop in Catalonia later this week.