Contact:  Heather Handyside

June 5,  2014

(907) 350-4846

Begich Chairs Hearing to Make Sure Firefighters Have Adequate Resources, Training to Fight Wildfires

Praises KPB’s Funny River Fire Crews and Mgmt. Team

Concerned about recent wildfires on the Kenai Peninsula and the likelihood of more fires as the result of dry weather conditions across much of Alaska,  U.S. Senator Mark Begich held a hearing today to ensure fire crews and first responders have the training and resources they need.

“My hat is off to the first responders and fire crews who are out there in the field battling the fires day in and day out,” said Begich. “In Alaska, we know the threat of wildfire confronts communities of all sizes.  That is why it was so important to me to chair this hearing to ensure that the first responders who are out there protecting lives, homes, and businesses receive the training and support they need.”

Watch the video from today’s hearing

Begich, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Management and Intergovernmental Relations, and the District of Columbia, called for the hearing after visiting the Funny River Wildfire last week and learning about challenges first hand from the fire management team and crews.  Currently there are wildfires burning across Alaska, affecting hundreds of thousands of acres, interrupting local economies and generating clouds of smoke and ash that have become a public health concern in some communities. 

Earlier today, Begich introduced the Senate version of the Federal Firefighter Flexibility and Fairness Act to address a glaring misstep in how we treat federal firefighters. The bill addresses the need to give federal firefighters the same ability to swap shifts that other firefighters have. This type of flexibility is important to morale and an improved life balance that will reduce attrition in the force.

“Across the country, municipal firefighters are able to work out changes in their schedules among themselves, with supervisors’ approval,” said Begich. “They can trade shifts without impacting their pay schedules, allowing them to take care of a sick family member or attend their children’s important events. The skills men and women learn during training to become a firefighter, smoke jumper, or hot shot team member are invaluable and we need to do our part in making sure that they have the flexibility they need to carry out their critical mission.”


These thoughts were echoed by Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre, who praised the work of the Funny River fire crews.  Other speakers at today’s hearing included: Jim Hubbard, Deputy Chief, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture; William Dougan, National President of the National Federation of Federal Employees; and Kevin O’Connor, Assistant to the General President for Public Policy of the International Association of Fire Fighters.


Begich chairs the Subcommittee on Emergency Management and Intergovernmental Relations, and the District of Columbia, a subcommittee of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC).  In this role and as a member of the Homeland Security Appropriations subcommittee, he will continue to fight to make sure our federal firefighters have the training and resources they need to protect our local communities. The Subcommittee has oversight of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as well as federal disaster response and preparedness.