The many benefits of the State Fire Assistance and Volunteer Fire Assistance Programs

Friday, April 13, 2018

By Zoe Bommarito

The State Fire Assistance and Volunteer Fire Assistance (SFA/VFA) programs provide crucial financial and technical assistance to states and local fire departments for wildland fire prevention, detection, and suppression. In addition to helping ensure that the nation’s first responders are prepared, the programs provide funding to complete hazardous fuels treatments designed to protect local communities from wildland fire and reduce the risk of future fires.

For the SFA and VFA programs, 40 years of cooperative forestry means coordinated wildfire prevention, detection, and suppression. Coordination, particularly when it comes to wildfire suppression, is critical to protecting the nation's forests and thousands of communities in and around them. This is because wildfire doesn't stop when it reaches an ownership boundary or new jurisdiction.

The burdens and costs of suppressing wildfire are shared by all: the federal government, the states, and local municipalities. In a typical year, 80% of the nation’s wildfires and almost 50% of the acreage burned are on state and private lands. In 2017, the federal government spent nearly $3 billion to suppress wildfires and the states spent an additional $1.4 billion.

WHY ARE THESE FIRE ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS IMPORTANT?

In 2017, there were 71,499 wildfires reported in the United States. These wildfires consumed 10,026,086 acres and destroyed 8,065 residences. With wildfire seasons becoming longer and more devastating, the SFA and VFA programs provide critical and swift response capability for fighting fires. In fact, the first to respond on federal fires are often local and state firefighters that are equipped and trained through the SFA program.

The programs help support training, crew preparedness, and the sharing of resources like engines, so whenever needed, surge capacity is available on the national and local levels. In 2017, SFA/VFA funding trained more than 58,000 firefighters and provided more than $13.5 million dollars in new or upgraded equipment.

WHO BENEFITS FROM THESE FIRE ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS?

SFA/VFA equip local first responders with the resources, training, and equipment needed to keep their communities safe. The programs have helped more than 3,100 communities develop and implement Community Wildfire Protection Plans, risk assessments, or fire management plans. With these plans and assessments, all communities — and people who call them home — are safer in the face of dangerous fire hazards.

Of 30,000 fire departments nationally, more than 20,000 are staffed by volunteers; and in many cases, initial attack on wildland fire is performed by volunteer fire departments in rural areas. Responding to wildland fire is a unique and dangerous task that demands additional equipment and training. The VFA program allows rural volunteer-based departments to have access to resources they wouldn’t otherwise have to respond to critical hazards. In 2015, over 9,000 local fire departments were assisted through VFA.

Zoe Bommarito is NASF's 2018 Winter and Spring James Hubbard Intern for Policy and Communications. She can be reached by email at intern@stateforesters.org.