Shortage within Alabama Forestry Commission

Posted by: Mario Hendricks - bio | email
Reported by: Jennifer Oravet - bio | email

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - State budget cuts are in the news a lot. Now there's proof than when you cut, things bleed. In this case forest firefighters.

The state forestry commission, charged with fighting wildfires, must decide how to do it's job on $5 million fewer dollars than it had in this year's already lean budget.

Fewer firefighters could affect fire response times, property, even lives.

Torched pine needles and charred bark were all that was left after a wildfire burned 200 acres of commercial timber land in Escambia County.

Only 50 of those acres survived the fire, a credit to state forestry firefighters like Patrick Waldrop. Soon, about a third of the critical positions in the department will be on the chopping block.

"This is as low as I have ever seen it, to talk about more layoffs is disheartening," said Waldrop.

Right now more than three hundred forestry firefighters are spread over the state concentrating on fire-prone areas.

A $5 million dollar budget cut will eliminate about 100 of those positions. This cut translates into higher risks for firefighters, property owners and most of all, the volunteer fire departments who cover most of the state's land masses.

"We have worked with the AAVFD letting them know what's going on," stated Linda Casey of the Alabama Forestry Commission. "I have met with them, I have been realistic. Our response time is going to decrease."

Decreasing response time, and additional time used for controlled burns, which Waldrop says could have helped saved more property.

Studies conducted by the forestry commission show the least number of fire fighters recommended across the state breaks even at 220. Spreading overtime and on-call shifts over fewer workers could be a disaster.

"Because of the staffing we will have out, and our ability to respond quickly that response time will go up. As it goes up, the danger of property damage and loss of life will increase," stated Waldrop.

The department is forced to shift it's focus from fighting fires to preventing them. Programs like The Wild Land Urban Interface is designed to help homeowners and the forestry commission.

The forestry commission's layoffs are expected to begin later this summer.

It's not just state firefighters in danger, last week we exposed the issues facing volunteer firefighters.

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