IAFC President and Chairman of the Board Chief Dan Eggleston told a Homeland Security subcommittee that the changing climate is having an impact on the fire service, including more costly and intense wildland fires.
Eggleston testified Tuesday before the Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Recovery, on “Assessing the Homeland Security Impacts of a Changing Climate.” The subcommittee is chaired by Rep. Donald Payne (D-N.J.).
“No matter if it is a hurricane, tornado, flood or wildland fire, America’s local fire departments are the first to arrive on scene and often the last to leave,” Eggleston testified. “The first 24 hours after disaster strikes are critical during such large-scale events. Local fire departments must provide emergency response in treacherous conditions without the expectation of immediate state or federal assistance. In short, local fire departments – large and small – are all-hazard responders responsible to meet these great challenges.”
Eggleston said the cost and intensity of climate-driven disasters are increasing. According to NOAA, the U.S. has witnessed 14 or more weather-related disasters costing more than $1 billion each year for the past three years.
“In addition, we have seen the number of acres burned by wildland fires increase by two-thirds over the past 10 years to 8.8 million acres,” he said.
In addition to property loss, weather-related disasters are causing tragic lost lives and injuries. According to NOAA, the 14 weather disasters in 2018 costing more than $1 billion in damages caused 247 deaths. According to the NFPA, 44 firefighters were fatally injured between 2007 and 2016 as a result of wildland fires. An additional 1,330 fireground injuries were caused by wildland fires between 2011 and 2015.
Eggleston asked Congress to take the following steps to help local communities and fire departments prepare for the increasing number of climate-related disasters:
- Promote mitigation efforts
- Support community preparedness programs
- Support programs that prepare local fire departments to respond to climate-driven disasters
“As disasters increase in intensity, they draw in resources from around the nation through EMAC and other mutual aid agreements,” Eggleston said. “It is important that local fire departments have the training, equipment and staffing that they require to support local, regional and national disasters. The FIRE and SAFER grant programs provide matching grants to local fire departments to meet these needs.”