Commission favors wildland urban fire protection interface
Carbon commissioners agreed last week to support the county's participation with the state to meet standards for wildfire protection.
The decision to meet state guidelines puts the county in compliance with Utah statutes which were amended in 2004 by House Bill 146.
The decision by county officials came in response to an inquiry by the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.
In order to receive state funding and support to prevent and fight wildfires, the county must meet three requirements established by HB 146.
The county must adopt a wildland fire ordinance based on the state's minimum standards, file a budget for fire suppression with the state and provide training, certification and equipment to firefighters.
Commissioner Michael Milovich said he was concerned about the training aspect of the statute.
When the bill was initially passed, the state standards created a level of training that would be difficult, if not impossible, for rural counties to meet, said Milovich.
While full-time paid firefighting crews on the Wasatch Front could easily meet them, the initial standards created an obstacle for smaller rural departments, which are generally comprised of volunteer crews.
"The initial reason that came out was not practical," said David Vickers.
In the time since the initial training standards were proposed, the state has scaled back its requirements.
The latest requirements require firefighters who actually fight on the fire line to complete a 40-hour training course and a physical test.
The training requirements do not apply to support personnel.
In many volunteer fire departments, older or physically disabled individuals will drive fire trucks, supply water and other support services.
As long as they don't actually engage in firefighting activities, these support personnel will not need to complete the training.
However, it has been two years since the new requirements were enacted by the legislature.
The state set a deadline earlier this year for compliance, but many counties in the state have yet to meet the latest standards.
The state is asking that counties state their intentions regarding state cooperation. In order to receive state funding and support to prevent and fight fires, counties must come into compliance.
For many counties, funding a wildfire incident without state support is not a favorable proposition. A single incident could bankrupt the budget of many of the smaller counties.
From the state's view, getting local firefighters trained comes down to safety.
"Wildland firefighting is a dangerous business," said Vicker, noting that five firefighers were killed in California recently and one firefighter was killed in Utah earlier in the year, all while fighting wildfires.
To promote the new standards and provide the necessary training, Vickers told commissioners the state would pay the costs of training firefighters.
As long as fire departments had a group of five or more people to receive training, the state would come to the firefighters and complete the training on the firefighters' schedule.
In Carbon, commissioners and county fire officials face the task of getting local fire officials and mayors on board.
The county provides none of the firefighters who will need to be trained and certified.
City officials will need to agree to participate with the agree to participate with the county if the county is to succeed in complying with state standards regarding training.
Jason Llewelyn, emergency services director for the county, suggested that one way of encouraging cities to comply would be to include the state requirements in the county's interlocal agreements with cities.
Other requirements set by the state require fewer changes in county policy. In the case of the budget, the county already adopts a fire budget each year and uses the state's suggested budget to do so.
The other requirement is to pass a fire ordinance that enforces the state-established standards. Vickers said he could provide ordinances to the county which could be used to model Carbon County's ordinance.