Wildland Fire Safety and Risk Management

Firefighters working fireline


The Federal Wildland Fire Management Policy and Program Review, chartered in 1994 by the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture, ensured that Federal wildland fire management policies were uniform and programs cooperative and cohesive.  In 1995, the policy was revised and engaged a proactive approach to managing wildfires.  In February 2009, Federal wildland fire management agencies issued new guidance for Implementation of Federal Wildland Fire Management Policy.  This guidance provided for consistent implementation of the federal fire policy, as directed by the Wildland Fire Leadership Council. 

Paramount to the policy guidance was the protection of human life.  


Firefighter and public safety remains the first priority for each and every wildland fire management action taken.  The protection of our natural and cultural resource and property is second.  Today, wildland fire managers use a risk-based decision process to assess values at risk and make wildland fire management decisions.  The 2009 Guidance revised some terminology when describing any non-structure fire that occurs in the wildland.  Two distinct types of wildland fire are identified:

  1. Wildfires, or unplanned natural ignitions, human-caused ignitions, and planned ignitions that are subsequently declared wildfires; and
  2. Prescribed fires, or planned ignitions.

The Federal wildland fire agencies continue to develop unified direction for agency/bureau manuals, directives, handbooks, guidebooks, plans, agreements, and other pertinent documents to complete final implementation of this guidance.  They revise and develop accountability standards, performance measures, and monitoring systems to assess and ensure agencies meet resource and protection objectives during the management of wildland fires.  Together, they work closely to ensure wildland firefighter safety.  

Managing risk is the primary means by which agencies achieve safety.  Risk management is a process for assessing risk and developing strategies to mitigate it.  This enables leaders to make improved organizational and operational decisions.  

The goal of the wildland fire safety program is to provide direction and guidance for safe, effective management in all wildland fire activities.  Safety is the responsibility of everyone assigned to wildland fire and must be practiced at all operational levels from the national fire director, state/regional director, and unit manager to employees in the field.  Agency administrators stress that firefighter and public safety takes precedence over property and resource loss--always; and coordination between the fire management staff and unit safety officer(s) is essential to achieve this goal.  

Agencies continue to face challenges that make management of wildland fires complex and demanding.  Leadership on a daily  basis takes steps to adopt risk assessment and mitigation techniques before and during fire incidents.  After action reviews of fire-related accidents is a tool that continues to be used, and wildland fire leadership use lessons learned from those reviews and identified best practices to improve policy and/or operation procedures as needed.  


Rod Bloms, Fire Operations Specialist