Alaska Fire Service looks to partner with Native groups to provide crews

The Alaska Fire Service is floating a plan to contract with Alaska Native corporations and tribal groups to provide wildfire crews. AFS spokeswoman Beth Ipsen says the draft proposal currently out for potential contractors to provide feedback on, has several potential advantages.

”Giving them more of an opportunity for stable employment. Giving them some opportunity for Native self-government,” Ipsen said. “As well as a higher quality, more experienced crew that can spend more days on a fire assignment.”

Ipsen says emergency firefighting crews across Alaska have declined from 70 to 20 over the last 15 years, a drop attributed to other, more stable employment opportunities, and increasing government regulations, including a health screening.

”A contractor could potentially have some requirements, like physical fitness requirements or medical requirements, but that would be up to the contractor,” Ipsen said.

Ipsen says AFS emergency fire crews work an average of 16 days per summer, but contract crews could get additional work outside of firefighting, including through federal grants contractors can apply for.

“There can be fuels and mitigation projects. There could be other project work, in the villages where they’re located,” Ipsen said. “So it opens it up for more consistent work outside of just the emergency call up as-needed basis.”

Ipsen adds that having more crews located across the AFS rural northern Alaska service area would make for quicker response when local fires crop up. She says the contract proposal currently out for comment, is modeled after a US Forest Service program in the Lower 48.

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Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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