'Firefighting is not war'


John Maclean's statement that thousands of young firefighters go out every year with the "implicit" understanding that they will fight harder -- and take greater risks -- when homes are threatened concerns me ("Stand down from Western wildfires," HCN, 7/22/13). Interagency fire programs have been trying to change that mentality; standards and orders have been revised to put safety first. If there are crews out there still unaware of this, then fire managers need to re-emphasize these changes, which are not new.

I'm a retired fire and aviation manager with a son in charge of a crew. I remind him that firefighting is not war; it's a dangerous business, but people do not have to die doing it. All firefighters -- whether on the ground or airplane pilots -- have the right to refuse assignments they deem too dangerous. People who live in the wildland-urban interface, as I do, should know the chance they take. Those with defensible spaces are more likely to see their homes spared; those who still believe it will not happen to them are taking chances and should face the consequences. And when people refuse evacuation orders, I agree with a friend who's a Type One incident commander, who says: "Can we have the name of your dentist? We may need dental records for identification." Is he a hard-ass? Probably. But I would never expect some young firefighter to die for my home –– or for me, if I refuse to leave a dangerous situation.

Al Alvarez
Tubac, Arizona

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