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Wildfire collaboration with Belarus breaks down borders

Forest Service Joe Reinarz with firefighters in the Brest region of Belarus. Forest Service photo by Shelia Slemp.

BELARUS — The week of Feb. 26th several workshops and high-level meetings were held in the Republic of Belarus with Forest Service experts and representatives from the Ministry of Emergency Situations and Ministry of Forestry. Joe Reinarz, incident commander with the Boise National Incident Management Organization Team, participated along with International Programs office staff who organized the events with in-country partners.

More than 80 firefighters and natural resource specialists from Belarus took part in three workshops held in the cities of Minsk, Brest and Gomel. Joe Reinarz gave presentations on the Incident Command System, as well as shared information about interagency cooperation, equipment and resources, ground and aerial response coordination, prevention, and communication with the public. Belarussian counterparts presented their approach to emergency response coordination with a particular focus on wildland fires. Workshop participants were actively engaged throughout presentations on ICS, chain of command, and resource mobilization methods. During set-up for one of the workshops, a Belarussian counterpart observed that the Republic of Belarus was nearly equal to the size of the state of Idaho, Joe’s home state. “How can you [Forest Service] manage wildfires across such a vast territory?” Answered Joe, “The Forest Service developed ICS to respond to this challenge.”

Participants were quite interested in fire prevention, particularly the popularity and messages of Smokey Bear. Forest Service personnel attended a fire-themed children’s art and handcraft exhibition where they were able to see first-hand ways in which Belarus promotes public awareness and education around fire prevention.

US Embassy staff in Minsk took part in ministerial level meetings and provided assistance with the coordination of the visit. Participant Vladimir Vashchenko, Minister of Emergency Situations, said “We are keen to continue this cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service by exchange of experience and personnel in order to learn best practices for wildfire suppression.”