Wildland and Structural Firefighter Equivalency Crosswalk: Where is it today?

One of the most anticipated and important operational initiatives in the recent past for local fire departments with wildland-urban interface responsibility is the firefighter crosswalk equivalency program now being developed.

In August 2001, the National Association of State Foresters convened a group of local, state and national firefighting organizations, including the IAFC. The group’s tasks were to assess the training, equipment, safety awareness and services provided by rural, volunteer and other firefighters who work in the wildland-urban interface and to report their findings to Congress.

The report was completed in June 2003 and titled The Changing Role and Needs of Local, Rural, and Volunteer Fire Departments in the Wildland-Urban Interface. One recommendation from the report was to develop performance-based wildland-fire training delivery packages that target volunteer and rural fire departments.

Subsequently, the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG), a federal multi-agency fire-training coordination group, asked the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) to lead a pilot effort to crosswalk equivalent training offered by NWCG, state fire training agencies and the USFA’s National Fire Academy.

The USFA stood up a committee to formulate a wildland/structural fire curriculum equivalency crosswalk methodology. The committee group members, including IAFC Wildland Fire Policy Committee Chair Chief Tom Kuntz, participated in the methodology formulation, addressing the scope of the crosswalk, who the authority having jurisdiction would be and a gap curriculum analysis process.

The system envisioned provides reciprocity but not national certification, defines the local fire chief as the authority having jurisdiction and determines equivalency for existing non-NWCG fire training. The intent of the program is to acknowledge a firefighter’s existing structural training toward providing focused wildland-specific training at the local level for a safer and more efficient local response to fire incidents in the wildland-urban interface.

Once the core methodology was created, states were selected as pilot sites to evaluate and compare the methodology with, including Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Montana, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Texas. The information learned during that evaluation lead to a refinement of the methodology and approval of the draft crosswalk matrix by the NWCG in May 2006.

The core concept that surrounds the crosswalk project is that members of the structural fire service possess important, common core competencies obtained in many areas of fire service training, including the National Fire Protection Association and National Fire Academy courses and other curriculum and on-the-job training offered at the state, local and private levels.

The NWCG wildland fire qualification system duplicates a number of these core competencies. No vehicle has existed in the past to recognize existing structural firefighter skills, qualifications and competencies and provide reciprocity or equivalency to an appropriate NWCG position level.

By implementing the crosswalk, gaps between structural and wildland firefighters can be identified for individuals and though a sister program currently being developed dealing with advanced training concepts, critical training can be provided to allow for safe and efficient operations in the wildland-urban interface.

The current phase of the project is being led by the IAFC through a cooperative agreement with the USFA to conduct three state visits to pilot test the approved draft crosswalk methodology and provide a final report that will be utilized to refine the crosswalk process and lead to the potential development of gap courses and implementation of the program.

The visits to Florida, Illinois and Arizona were helpful in finding new gaps and equivalencies and provided several state level examples of how the crosswalk could be utilized and implemented.

In addition to the state research, valuable insight has been provided by Wildland Fire Policy Committee member Keith Harrap, assistant commissioner of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service. The Australian system for their reciprocity program provides an important view into an existing equivalency program.

The IAFC has taken a leadership role in facilitating implementation of the recommendations in the changing-roles report. We have had a strong representation and presence on the committees and subcommittees created for this initiative and continue to represent the local fire service on this critical issue.

When endorsed and accepted throughout both the structural and wildland fire communities, the Firefighter Crosswalk Initiative will provide pertinent and useful training for structural firefighters in becoming safe and proficient assets of the wildland fire discipline.

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