Legislation allows wildfire training and employment of Alaskans in rural areas

Can include fuel reduction projects

Native Alaska Firefighters – On The Fireline – Cooling Off – In Training in McGrath Photos by Mike McMillan/AK Division of Forestry

By Alaska Fire Public Information Officers

Alaska’s “emergency firefighter act” – House Bill 209 – signed into law June 20, 2022, by Governor Mike Dunleavy enables the Division of Forestry and Fire Protection to train and employ wildland firefighters and project crews in rural areas.

Native Alaskan wildfire crews have historically been a vital part of village life and culture in Alaska, offering temporary employment to several hundred emergency firefighters (EFFs) throughout the summer months. But in recent years, limited opportunities for village fire crews and rural firefighters have been discouraging.

Alaska EFF wildland firefighters
Emergency Firefighter (EFF) Candidates Celebrate the End of their first Training Week at McGrath DOF in 2022. Photo: Gene Boyd/Alaska Division of Forestry

The purpose of the recent legislation is to alleviate many of the economic and logistical barriers to retaining rural firefighting crews throughout the wildfire season – running from April to August. House Bill 209 empowers the Division of Forestry to utilize firefighters in non-emergency capacities – namely fuel reduction projects. Tree cutting, brush clearing, debris removal and pile burning helps crews learn valuable firefighting skills, building cohesion while earning a steady income.

“We want to keep people working in their communities,” said Orozco Andres, Helitak Operations Foreman at McGrath Forestry. “Our goal is to create reliable employment by investing in and building our workforce with well-trained, hard-working firefighters.” Andres predicts McGrath Forestry will train 20-30 new firefighters by year’s end – a number he hopes will double in 2023.

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