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Ask a Contractor: A Discussion with Phil Dye of Prometheus Fire Consulting LLC

By Phil Dye, Prometheus Fire Consulting LLC

What is your background in wildland fire?

I started in wildland fire in 1997 with a local government fire agency. I retired in 2017 at the rank of Fire Captain but I remain active as a volunteer. In my 20 year career, I responded to dozens of wildland fires, from short duration initial attack fires to large multi-week Type 1 incidents. I have a number of ICS qualifications and I continue to deploy to large fires.

How did you becoming interested in becoming a private burn contractor?

Very early in my fire career, I noticed that the vast majority of prescribed burning was being conducted by government agencies while leaving the private landowner with little to no options for treating their land. With my firefighting experience and interest in prescribed fire, it seemed a great way to help private entities bring fire to their landscapes.

What are the advantages of becoming a private burn contractor?

Right now, the need for contractors is great. In all but eight states, the percentage of private land is greater than public land yet, as noted above, private landowners often have very few options for burning. Even in the states where public land percentage is higher than private, most government agencies do not have the staffing to complete all of their burning. And the backlog is getting larger every year. Many experts are calling for an “all-hands, all-lands” approach to prescribed burning and the private citizen needs to have a role in this. In addition, more and more funding is becoming available for agencies to hire private contractors.

What challenges have you faced as a private burn contractor?

The most significant challenge has been in securing insurance for prescribed burning. Only a few insurers are willing to underwrite this type of work and the premiums can be high. However, I believe that insurers are starting to see that the risk of not supporting prescribed burning may ultimately expose them to even greater loss from fire that might have been prevented with some prescribed burning. Another challenge is obtaining and maintaining the necessary qualifications. Becoming a Prescribed Fire Burn Boss is a multi-year process.

What advice do you have for someone interested in becoming a private burn contractor?

Identify potential clients and partners early on and work to develop and maintain those relationships. It is often not enough just to be qualified to conduct burns. It requires one to carefully listen to each client’s needs and goals and then work together over time to reach them. Be honest about your abilities and limitations.

What resources are available/have you found helpful?

I have found the National Wildfire Suppression Association to be a great resource for private contractors. The NWSA supports and represents over 150 private companies, most of whom are involved in fire suppression but a number who also perform prescribed burning. NWSA can provide information about training and other topics of interest to contractors.
In addition, I find it helpful to keep abreast of federal requirements for training and prescribed fire as contractors can gain a competitive advantage by mirroring the federal requirements. Two particularly useful documents are the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) Wildland Fire Qualification System Guide  and the NWCG Interagency Prescribed Fire Planning and Implementation Procedures Guide.

Prometheus Fire Consulting LLC assists landowners in the development, planning, and implementation of prescribed fire. Our clients are from many states across the country. More information can be found on our website.  Prometheus Fire Consulting is an equal opportunity employer.

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