WASHINGTON — The International Programs office, with funding from the U.S. Department of State, organized a technical exchange on wildland fire and emergency response for 10 Ukrainian policy makers and wildland firefighters from the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. The delegation spent 12 days in the U.S. to learn systems for coordinated response to wildfires in order to reduce the impact of fire events on people in close proximity to contaminated forests.
The group traveled to Idaho and Montana, visiting the National Interagency Coordination Center, the Northern Rockies Geographic Area Coordination Center, Kootenai National Forest, Lolo National Forest, Glacier National Park, the Missoula Fire Sciences Lab, the Missoula Technology and Development Center, Missoula Smokejumpers Base, and other sites. They participated in a Level 3 (simple) fire simulation on the Kootenai National Forest’s Libby Ranger District and were surprised to see women working alongside their male counterparts; this elicited a lively debate since it is illegal for women to fight fire in Ukraine. The delegation also spent a day at a fire camp observing first-hand the activities of a Level 1 (complex) incident. The group was struck throughout their time in the U.S. with how multiple agencies come together for fighting fire. After attending the daily briefing of the National Multi-Agency Coordination Team at NICC, delegate Mykhailo Baitala from the Ministry of the Interior in Ukraine remarked “I have never seen anything like that. When I return I will have a meeting with leadership to discuss how we can better organize ourselves.”
For more than 12 years the U.S. Forest Service, with support from the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development, has provided technical assistance to Chernobyl Exclusion Zone personnel in responding to the ever-increasing risk for catastrophic fires that threaten the unmanaged forests surrounding the Chernobyl reactors. Over the years this has included scientific exchanges and trainings in the Incident Command System, wildland fire management, and safety in contaminated areas.