The National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) is made up of the USDA Forest Service; four Department of the Interior agencies: Bureau of Land Management (BLM), National Park Service (NPS), Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS);and State forestry agencies through the National Association of State Foresters. The purpose of NWCG is to coordinate programs of the participating wildfire management agencies so as to avoid wasteful duplication and to provide a means of constructively working together. Its goal is to provide more effective execution of each agency’s fire management program. The group provides a formalized system to agree upon standards of training, equipment, qualifications, and other operational functions.
- We believe the goal of effective wildfire management is best served through coordinating the resources of all fire management agencies, irrespective of land jurisdiction.
- We believe in the concepts of full partnership, trust, and mutual assistance among the fire management agencies.
- We h3ly support professionalism in all facets of fire management.
- We strive to bring the best talent to bear on vital issues in a timely manner, irrespective of agency affiliation.
- We strive for economy, efficiency, and quality in all activities, and practice concepts of total mobility, closest forces, and shared resources without geographic limitations.
- We constantly search for areas of agreement to further the effectiveness of the wildfire management program.
The people who originally made up the group were then, and are today, basically staff leaders in agency programs. They are not line officers. In most cases these leaders are the people who have a large influence on the policy and funding of an agency program. Agreed-upon policies, standards, and procedures are implemented directly through regular agency channels.
The NWCG elected to operate through "Working Teams," a rather nondescript term that doesn't do justice to a tremendous effort. The working team concept has had the greatest effect of NWCG in that it has provided a means for the exchange of knowledge about all dimensions of fire management.
Originally, there were 13 working teams. The number of Working Teams and Advisory Groups have been changed to reflect the current NWCG emphasis. The criteria established required they be small (8-10 Persons); interagency in nature, and insofar as possible balanced geographically. Teams could appoint sub-teams, and several of these sub-teams were very productive, the National Fire Equipment Standards (NFES) Team and the Fire Prevention Task Team that developed the "Cool Sheet" and standardized fire reporting. Over the years some teams have been abolished; some put on an "as needed basis," and some retained.
A member of NWCG serves as a representative on each Committee and carries recommendations back to the parent body. Occasionally a committee of specialists is formed, for a short term, to complete specific tasks.
In addition, an executive secretary serves on the group to maintain status of the members, track NWCG issues, solicit input, and prepare meeting agendas, provide advance study materials, prepare budget plans, and oversee preparation and distribution of minutes.
There are several avenues in which individuals or agencies can interface with the NWCG to retrieve information, make recommendations, or raise issues. Contact can be made with agency representatives on the parent group and /or the working teams, the group or working team chairpersons, or the executive secretary.
If contact with the field is needed, the working team chairperson will contact the agency NWCG member as a courtesy and for authorization and coordination purposes. Working teams needing information from States request this information from one or both of the NASF representatives of NWCG.
The Need For Cooperation
Just as the fires of the 1960's led to the formation of the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC, formerly BIFC), so did the fires of the early 1970's (1970,1971, and 1973) stimulate the formation of the National Wildfire Coordinating Group. Some suggest the beginning was a famous river trip down the Colorado by then Secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butz, and Interior Secretary, Roger Morton, who agreed, after several discussions around the camp fire, that their agencies should cooperate more. But the need for a coordinating mechanism had been recognized long before this trip. Two events had a h3 influence in focusing this need; (1) the "America Burning" Task Force Report which h3ly urged, a single national fire fighting concept that wasn't to be in the wildland fire community and (2) the entry into the fire program by fire aerospace industry who had just been drastically reduced in defense programs (This group ultimately spawned the genesis of the National Interagency Incident Management System [NIIMS] effort).
A third reason was the recognition of escalating fire fighting costs. Closer to home, and an event many can relate to, was a meeting of a group of wildland fire training officers at Boise in late 1972 where it was pointed out that eight distinct units were developing courses in fire safety. The officers were appalled at the duplication of effort and formed their own training committee to cope with this situation. This committee was the predecessor of the NWCG Training Working Team.
Under the leadership of Henry W. DeBruin, Director of Aviation and Fire Management, USDA Forest Service, and James H. Richardson, Chief, Division of Fire Management, USDI Bureau Land Management, a meeting was convened in January 1973, in the auditorium of the USDI. There were four representatives from USDA; Hank DeBruin-A&FM, Craig Chandler, Division of Fire and Atmospheric Sciences Research; Willard Tikkala, Cooperative Fire Protection; and Robert Bjornsen, BIFC; and five from USDI J. H. Richardson, Chief, Division of Fire Management, BLM; Jack Wilson, BLM/BIFC; Roger Gettings, Resource Management Staff (Park Opus) NPS; James Hubert, Refuge Management staff, FWS; and Richard Ely, Forester, BIA. This meeting followed President Nixon's actions in response to the oil embargo, and the room was cold and poorly lighted. The meeting started in a very stiff, formal, wait-and-see manner.
But the pressing need and general agreement led to the development of a coordination system and NWCG was formed. A lot of time was spent deciding the name as each word was to have a specific meaning. "National" to clearly set forth the scope of the effort, "Wildfire" to ensure the structural and urban fire missions were delineated, "Coordinating" to emphasize the cooperative nature of coordinating together, and "Group" because of the tenuous working relationships of the people involved.
As a point of interest the founders of NWCG were unaware that a similar organization, chaired by William Greeley of the Forest Service, had existed between 1927 and 1933. This organization was known as the Forest Protection Board and its charter read almost the same as NWCG'S. It differed from NWCG in that it was headed by line officers.
Two of the first major actions of NWCG were to promulgate a charter and to add a representative from the National Association of State Foresters (NASF). The State Forester tapped by NASF was the chair of their Fire Committee, Ralph Winkworth of North Carolina. He was a h3 line officer and past president of NASF. Two years later a second State Forester, Gareth Moon of Montana, was added. The NWCG charter, which set forth the organizations and functions was signed by Secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butz, and Secretary of the Interior, Tom Kleppe, in February 1976.
NWCG has accomplished a number of major goals with the assistance of working teams and other task groups.
- Development of interagency fire training programs; State and Federal fire personnel have the same training background.
- Development of fire chemical standards reduce environmental impact and increase cost effectiveness.
- Implementation of the National Interagency Incident Management System (NIIMS) including a common on incident organizational management system, a National Interagency Wildland Fire Qualifications Guide, associated training, and supporting technologies.
- Standardization of Federal air tanker and helicopter contracts.
- Standardization of radio frequency agreement format for sharing specific radio frequencies at the local level.
- Development of fire prevention training materials and guides.
- Standardization of fire cache equipment leading to equipment compatibility and use by all fire organizations.
- The step test and/or one and a half mile run was adopted as the standard measure of physical fitness.
- The National Interagency Incident Management System was developed; along with its operational organization, the Incident Command System.
- Prescribed fire qualifications, monitoring, and smoke management guides were published.
- A new generation of training packages evolved for the Incident Command System.
- A performance based qualification system the Incident Command System and Suppression fire training and qualification curricula were refined and revised.
- Publication of the ICS National training curriculum for All-Risk users.
- Computer study to better link all wildland fire agencies to a common system.
- Expanding use of typical wildland resources into all-risk applications in support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
- Prescribed fire and qualification and training system approved and courses developed.
What's the future of NWCG? Will it last? We certainly think so. First, the concept is an important one - the concept that all of us in the wildland fire business need to share information in a formal way and that a form of high-level coordination is effective and beneficial.
None of us can go it alone. Over the years interagency cooperation has vacillated between two competing philosophies; autonomy and fragmentation on the one hand, and cooperation and synergism on the other. Program similarities and sheer cost dictate the potential benefits of the latter philosophy and this overriding need for cooperation is the basis of the NWCG creed. The magic of NWCG however, is that the agencies can maintain individual decision making and autonomy on some issues, but agree upon a synergistic approach when it benefits everyone involved.