NFPA Journal - May/June 2020 - 62

Perspectives

COVID, MEET
WILDFIRE

HOW THE ONGOING COVID-19 RESPONSE COULD
IMPACT THE UPCOMING FIRE SEASON, AND WHAT FIRE
AND HEALTH AGENCIES NEED TO DO TO PREPARE
By Aaron Clark-Ginsberg, David Shew,
and Christopher Nelson
he COVID-19 outbreak is expected

T

HEAD TO HEAD
Experts warn that
compounded
emergencies will
force responder
agencies and
public health
agencies to make
difficult choices in
the allocation of
resources.

to last well into the coming wildfire
season. When coronavirus and wildfires collide, wildland firefighting
agencies and public health agencies
will need to work together to ensure that they can
maintain their operations.  
Since the impacts of coronavirus and wildfires
overlap, managing these public health and safety
challenges will require joint planning between
wildland firefighting agencies and public health
agencies. Wildland firefighters need to engage
with public health agencies to build strategies
that maintain firefighting capacity while minimizing the impact of the coronavirus outbreak, and
health agencies need to work with firefighters to
ensure their capacity to manage the outbreak is
maintained during the fire season. 

COVID-19 and wildfire response
Fighting wildfires is ultimately a human effort.
Thousands of people work as seasonal and permanent wildland firefighters across the United
States, representing local, state, and federal agencies, private sector companies, and correctional

Wildfires and COVID-19 response
Wildfires might also create challenges that exacerbate broader public health impacts of the outbreak.
As part of their efforts to combat the COVID-19

GETT Y IMAGES

P U B L I C H E A LT H & S A F E T Y

facilities. Large wildfires can require the coordinated response efforts of legions of firefighters
who can come from across the country and around
the world. The scale of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on staffing is difficult to predict and
depends on factors that remain unresolved, such
as the effectiveness of social distancing measures
and the pace of vaccine and antiviral development. However, continued outbreaks of illness and
a persistent anxiety over public gatherings may
create critical shortages of wildland firefighters
that could significantly impact the response.
Wildfire response efforts could also be hampered
by the measures necessary to manage the coronavirus outbreak. Wildland firefighters are expected to
work close to each other in crews that work, travel,
and sometimes even live together. Such proximity
is a necessary part of response and a key factor for
building team unity, so maintaining social distancing may be all but impossible for crewmembers
during the fire season. Furthermore, crews interact when out on fires, from working on the fireline
to living and eating as a single unit in fire camps.
Documented cases of diseases, including antibiotic-resistant staph infections, spreading in these
camps offer indications of the challenges that could
be posed by coronavirus. Such challenges could be
exacerbated by the use of inmate crews as part of
wildfire response, due to the inherent need to keep
crewmembers together for security purposes.  
COVID-19 might also strain financial resources
available for wildfire response. While fighting wildfires does not require the same types of resources as
responding to COVID-19-firefighters rely on trucks,
helicopters, and airplanes for transportation; use
bandanas, hardhats, and fire-resistant clothing for
personal protective equipment; and battle fires using
chainsaws and Pulaskis-fighting fires and responding to coronavirus are both costly undertakings
that can compete for the same limited local, state,
and federal emergency funds. In Australia, according to The Guardian, resources have been diverted
away from wildfire response and recovery to fighting
the COVID-19 pandemic. With costs of responding to COVID-19 already substantial and expected
to grow, wildland firefighters might be entering the
fire season in a severely constrained resource environment and may have additional resources diverted
away from firefighting efforts.

62 | NFPA JOURNAL * M A Y / J U N E 2 0 2 0

Perspectives 05.20 V4 DCS.indd 62

5/4/20 3:43 PM



NFPA Journal - May/June 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of NFPA Journal - May/June 2020

Contents
NFPA Journal - May/June 2020 - Cover1
NFPA Journal - May/June 2020 - Cover2
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NFPA Journal - May/June 2020 - Contents
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NFPA Journal - May/June 2020 - Cover3
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