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Volunteers Requested to Fight Fires in Washington State

This is an unprecedented move.

The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has taken the unprecedented step of asking for citizen volunteers with heavy equipment to help fight the wildland fires in Eastern Washington.

I'll put this in context for you. Back 20 years when the last really big firestorm was raging and I was the Washington State Emergency Operations Center Disaster Manager, I could not get the DNR to ask the National Guard for assistance. Basically they did not want to "say Uncle" and ask for the help.  

Eventually the fires did get to the point where they asked for help and in the end, active-duty United States Marines were deployed to help save the town of Leavenworth, Wash.

DNR will have to do a great deal of work to make sure that these citizen volunteers get the right training to stay safe, and it is going to have to be clarified:

  • Are they being paid for the effort (I know volunteer -- but ...)
  • Are they getting free fuel?
  • What about housing and feeding of the volunteers?
  • What if there is an injury, broken leg, twisted ankle, heart attack -- what is the liability?
I applaud the fact that citizens are willing to help, but due diligence must be performed to keep them safe and to ensure that protocols are in place for any compensation and liability.

Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.