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Response Ready Oregon aims to improve how state fights wildfires, boosting coordination and collaboration

(Updated: adding video, comments from State Fire Marshal's Office)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Communities across Oregon are still recovering from devastating wildfires in recent years. Alison Green, public affairs director of the Office of State Fire Marshal, says fire knows no boundaries.

"We have seen some incredible fire behavior even in the last five years," she said Thursday. "And it continues to increase and impact communities."

To meet the growing challenge of wildfire in the wildland-urban interface, Oregon's Office of the State Fire Marshal has launched Response Ready Oregon.

As part of the Response Ready Oregon initiative, the OSFM hired seven regional mobilization coordinators. These RMCs will be the local contact for fire chiefs on local response needs. For an interactive map with their contacts, visit the OSFM Field Staffing Map.

Their job is to collaborate with Fire Defense Board chiefs and local fire chiefs to develop, administer, and maintain strategies and plans to improve the Oregon Fire Mutual Aid System (OFMAS).    

Response Ready Oregon will provide extra capacity to local jurisdictions and Fire Defense Boards chiefs to collaboratively help with the following:   

  • Modernized systems and technology that support the Oregon Fire Mutual Aid System (OFMAS)  
  • Assistance to the Oregon fire service by creation and enhancements of local and regional mutual aid plans   
  • Assistance to Fire Defense Board chiefs during initial attack, assessment of fire, and requests for conflagration if necessary  
  • Fire season readiness reviews   
  • Assistance in determining fire service gaps and needs   
  • Liaison with the emergency management community, ODF, and other state, tribal, and federal wildland fire partners

In addition, the Office of the State Fire Marshal has added capacity in its operations with statewide training, safety and planning to support the OFMAS.

Green says it'll help all fire districts and departments when they need it most.

"All of our resources are able to have some of the relatively same tools -- that is going to make all the difference," she said.

The long-standing firefighting structure uses the Emergency Conflagration Act. That's when extra, outside resources are called in to help fight a wildfire after an official declaration is invoked by the governor. A conflagration designation is typically used for larger fires over extended periods of time.

Now, there are two new response tools to prevent fires from getting to that conflagration point.

The first, pre-positioning, gives the state fire marshal the ability to pre-position resources ahead of high-risk conditions, like high winds, drought or lightning.

An immediate response plan was created to mobilize resources outside of an official declaration, allowing a short-term surge in resources to fight the fire.

"We don't have to wait until the local resources are overwhelmed," Green said. "We can send folks ahead of time."

Local resources also include money to support staffing through the 2022 wildfire season. A total of 180 fire districts across Oregon were awarded $6 million in grants. Funding was made possible through Senate Bill 762.

Green says the hope is to create long-term, durable solutions to fight fires.

"Having these new tools, new funding, new opportunities to support our fire offices on the ground is so important," she said. "The more we can support them, bolster that response, we can keep those fires small and away from communities."

"And that's the ultimate goat -- is that we are able to get those fires just as quickly as possible at the local, regional, and statewide scale."


Here's Thursday's announcement of those staffing grants:

$6 million in grants helping Oregon fire service staff up this summer
Oregon State Fire Marshal

SALEM, Ore. – To boost capacity within the Oregon fire service, the Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal (OSFM) has awarded $6 million in grants to the structural fire service to hire firefighting staff during the 2022 wildfire season.  
 
The OSFM is excited to announce that 180 local fire districts and departments across Oregon were awarded $6 million in grant funding to support staffing through the 2022 wildfire season. As part of the OSFM’s Response Ready Oregon Initiative, this grant opportunity was available to all 306 local fire districts and departments. 

“Our office has heard from multiple fire chiefs across Oregon who say this funding will have a profound, positive impact in communities across the state,” Oregon State Fire Marshal Mariana Ruiz-Temple said. “Agencies will be able to have additional paid firefighters at the ready during these critical summer months. This will help to keep fires small and away from communities.” 

The grant aims to bolster capacity within the Oregon fire service and the Oregon Fire Mutual Aid System (OFMAS). The OSFM uses OFMAS to mobilize the Oregon fire service to incidents like wildfire and floods to help protect Oregonians, their homes, and critical infrastructure. 

Local fire agencies were able to request up to $35,000 to support staffing during this critical time of year. This additional funding will increase on-duty capacity throughout the 2022 fire season at the local level and allow agencies to mobilize quickly to fires at the local, regional, and state (conflagration) levels. 

“The community of Chiloquin Fire & Rescue and our mutual aid partners in Klamath County will benefit greatly. The recent 242 and Bootleg fires ravaged our communities, highlighting the need for a robust firefighting force, available anytime,” Chiloquin Fire & Rescue Chief Mike Cook said. “This grant will provide us the capability of using trained students, overtime staff, and volunteers during future events.” 
 
Using this grant, Chiloquin Fire & Rescue plans to staff two Type 6 engines or one Type 3 and a Type I tender throughout the 2022 fire season.  
 
“Saturday, July 2nd was the first day our additional staff was on shift,” Cook said. “We had a smoke report that turned out to be a fire in heavy timber. The engine staffed through this grant was able to get the fire under control and turn it over to the Oregon Department of Forestry. This is proof the program is viable and a great addition to the small rural departments.” 

Funding for this up staffing grant opportunity was made possible through the Oregon Legislature and Senate Bill 762.   


ABOUT RESPONSE READY OREGON  

The OSFM’s Response Ready Oregon initiative was created to help bolster capacity and modernize wildfire response within the Oregon Fire Mutual Aid System (OFMAS). The goal of Response Ready Oregon is to attack fires while they are small and keep them away from communities. To learn more about the OSFM or Response Ready Oregon, visit oregon.gov/osp/programs/sfm 

Article Topic Follows: Fire Alert
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Carly Keenan

Carly Keenan is a multimedia journalist and producer for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Carly here.

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