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Warding off wildfires

The Pennsylvania Forest Fire Wardens have been protecting Pennsylvania’s forests for over 100 years.

So, what is a fire warden and what do they do to protect the Commonwealth from wildfires?

A fire warden’s authority and responsibility is established by legislative mandate. Their work is guided by policy and practice.

A properly trained local forest fire warden is appointed primarily to detect, extinguish, report and extinguish wildfires in their community. They also promote wildfire prevention and conduct fire prevention programs.

Fire wardens can additionally be assigned other duties such as wildfire patrolman or watchman during periods of high fire danger. They are also required to assemble and train a crew of wildland firefighters that are available to respond, under the warden’s direction, to wildland fires within the Commonwealth.

One of the most important duties of a Forest Fire Warden is to educate the public about wildfire prevention. Each year, the Forest Fire Wardens conduct close to 1,000 fire prevention programs that reach close to 1 million people. These programs are vital to wildfire prevention efforts and can create a big difference in the protection of life, property and natural resources from the damage that a wildfire may cause.

In each of Pennsylvania’s 20 forest districts, the District Forest Fire Warden is responsible for determining the need and supervision of work of local Forest Fire Wardens. The District Fire Warden is also responsible in assisting interested individuals in obtaining training and the experience necessary to become local Forest Fire Warden.

The establishment of fire wardens was spurred by rampant wildfire in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. This wildfire was the cause of unregulated logging and subsequently caused visionary leaders Gifford Pinchot and Joseph Rothrock to lobby for laws to protect Pennsylvania’s streams and forests. The efforts of Pinchot and Rothrock led to the creation of the system of volunteer Forest Fire Wardens in Pennsylvania in 1915.

If you are interested in becoming a Pennsylvania Forest Fire Warden or in wildland firefighter training to become a volunteer wildfire fighter, contact your local forest district office. A list of local offices is available at www.dcnr.pa.gov/stateforests/findaforest

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