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NPS Archeology Guide > Cultural Resources and Fire > 2. Fire Preparedness and Cultural Resources

Fire Preparedness and Cultural Resources

Every park in the National Park System contains cultural resources that, potentially, can be adversely affected by fire, fire treatment measures, inappropriate post-fire demolition, or ineffective rehabilitation. Fire preparedness is an important responsibility and is particularly critical in parks that do not have wildland and/or structural fire plans in place. Cultural resource managers and park superintendents can take proactive steps to protect cultural resources ahead of a fire incident through:

The guidance in this section outlines fire preparedness for cultural resource managers in parks, regions, and centers; fire fighters; Section 106 coordinators; and park superintendents to help protect cultural resources in the event of a wildfire or structural fire.

For a downloadable checklist of activities to prepare for fires in the absence of fire management plans, go to the Fire Preparedness Checklist (.docx).

Employee and public safety is the first priority in every management activity. All planning and implementation activities must reflect this commitment. A job hazard analysis should be prepared for each incident activity.

Personal Preparedness

NPS Management Policies (2006) requires that cultural resource staff in parks that have wild or structural fire risks receive fire prevention and emergency response training. Structural fire prevention and emergency response training can be obtained from local professional firefighting units. The NPS provides training for responding to wildfires.

Qualifications for Assisting During Wildland Fires

Cultural resource staff participate in planning and wildfire incident response as cultural resource technical specialists (THSPs) and wildland fire cultural resource advisors (READs). Cultural THSPs are personnel with cultural resource expertise who meet the minimum qualifications for their professions as established in the Secretary of the Interior’s Professional Qualification Standards for Archeology and Historic Preservation. The Secretary’s Standards define the minimum education and experience required to perform cultural resource identification, evaluation, registration, and treatment activities.

Before cultural resource staff assist on the wildfire line or during prescribed burns, they must complete training for an Incident Qualification card, or “red card.” The red card allows them to serve as cultural THSPs during wildland fires, monitor during prescribed burns, and conduct research within active fire perimeters. Note that representatives from Indian tribes who serve on fire teams must also be red card qualified. Cultural resource staff that play active roles during wildland fire management activities should complete Wildland Fire Resource Advisor (READ) training.

Staff must successfully complete wildland fire courses S130/190 and pass a work capacity test (“pack test”), outlined in PMS 310-1 Wildland Fire Qualifications System Guide (.pdf). To work on fire lines without an escort, a READ must maintain an arduous rating. Type 2 Firefighting training will also allow cultural resource staff to participate in prescribed burns and other types of ignitions. It also provides training for personal protection while in a fire environment. To retain their rating, staff must complete an annual refresher course.

Cultural READs provide input to the wildfire pre-suppression planning efforts, development of wild fire suppression tactics, and identification of emergency fire rehabilitation needs. READs collect and compile cultural resource information and make recommendations for the protection or treatment of cultural resources. An intimate understanding of structural and wildland fire management and cultural resource needs is critical to the position. Once training and qualifications are secured, cultural resource staff coordinate with the wildland fire management program to register in the Incident Qualification and Certification System (IQCS)/Resource Ordering and Status System (ROSS) and be added to park contact lists for responding to a fire.

The cultural resource THSP collects and analyzes cultural resource information to make recommendations to the READ, planning section chief, or others on the incident management team but is not qualified to make recommendations for the protection or treatment of cultural resources. The Cultural resource THSP may work in areas away from the fireline during a wildfire. They can assist in the protection of cultural resources and also monitor activities during mechanical fuel reductions. Technical specialists who are not on the fireline but perform office work and advise the cultural READ or incident management team do not need to be red card qualified.

The chart below summarizes the positions, qualifications, and roles of cultural resource staff in wildland fire management events:




Cultural Resource Technical Specialist
Archeologist (ARCH)

Meet Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Archeology and Historic Preservation in appropriate field of expertise.

Wildland fire and cultural resource planning; cultural resource data collection; assist with mechanical fuel reductions.

Incident Qualification
(“red card”)

Successful completion of S130/190 and arduous or moderate work capacity test rating.

Assist with prescribed burns; assist on fire lines; conduct research within fire perimeter.

Cultural Resource Advisor

Complete certification training.

Work within an incident command structure to make recommendations for protection of cultural resources.

Assisting During Structural Fires

The potential for building collapse makes structural fires inherently dangerous; only trained firefighters should enter burning buildings. Fire prevention and emergency response training available from local fire-fighting units outlines permissible activities during structural fires.

Park Preparedness

Even parks without approved fire plans can anticipate fires and take measures to ensure that cultural resources are protected. Protective measures include:

Cultural Resource Advisors and Technical Specialist Notifications

Cultural resource managers ensure that cultural resource THSPs and cultural READs are included on the list of individuals to be notified upon the outbreak of a structural fire, wildfire, or when planning a fuel reduction activity. If listed, staff need to ensure that they are available and willing to respond. Lists should be frequently updated. The contact list for cultural resources in the event of a fire should include:

Participation of park THSPs and cultural READs provides park cultural resource managers an opportunity to convey information about sensitive cultural resource locations and recommendations for protection to the incident manager.

Incident Library

The compilation of park management plans can assist the incident commander in decision-making during a wildfire in the absence of a wildland fire management plan. An incident library should include any resource advisor guides, the park's general management plan or foundation statement, resource management plans, vegetation management plan, and other resource and land management plans. Park cultural resources should be entered into a GIS database that can be made accessible as needed to incident management teams, BAER teams, or other interdisciplinary teams brought in to assist the park during a fire. Sensitive cultural resource information should be maintained in a secure manner.

Response Team Preparedness

The more effort a park makes to ensure that response teams have sufficient information, the more likely that cultural resources will be protected and that procedures will go smoothly.

Training Local Fire Fighters in Cultural Resource Protection

NPS Management Policies (2006) requires that park and local fire personnel be advised of the locations and characteristics of cultural resources threatened by fire and of any priorities for protecting them during any planned or unplanned fire incidents. Local fire crews are often the first responders to fires and have the first opportunity to protect cultural resources. Training local fire crews to recognize and avoid cultural resources helps to minimize unwanted effects of fire management.

Waiting until the fire is on the ground is an inappropriate time to educate fire crews about cultural resources. Since park units without internal fire departments use the nearest fire resources to respond to an incident and for implementing fuels projects, training cooperative units and park fire crews is important. Cultural resources protection training can be added to the cooperative agreements or memoranda of understanding developed with cooperating fire departments. Training about park cultural resources should be conducted annually prior to the fire season.

Training for cooperating units may be developed by a qualified cultural THSP or READ familiar with the park unit. The cultural THSP or READ works with cultural resource managers to develop an appropriate training curriculum.

Training to protect cultural resources from the effects of wildland fire should include:

Training to protect cultural resources from the effects of structural fires should include:

The training can be brief and incorporated into existing training programs. It may include photographs, videos, slide shows, and physical examples of cultural materials. It might include field trips to examine resources that may be difficult to describe or convey in a classroom setting, such as flaked stone scatters and middens. The personal contact between the park cultural resource staff and fire crews during training is an opportunity to facilitate good working relationships between individuals and between programs.

Response Team Responsibilities for Notifications

The SHPO, THPO, or tribal leadership appropriate to the area of a wildfire incident is notified of emergency fire suppression activities as soon as possible after the outbreak of the incident, or as per the schedule agreed to during consultation. The task of contacting the SHPO or THPO is usually assigned to the park Section 106 Coordinator, cultural resource manager, or cultural READ. The person assigned to notification obtains as much information as possible about the fire situation prior to making contact. Notification may take a variety of forms including letter, telephone call, fax, email, or personal visit. The form of communication is appropriate to the nature and urgency of the fire.

The SHPO is kept informed of the measures that the park is taking to consider and protect associated cultural resources during fire suppression, including anticipated levels of mobilization, organization, staffing, and plans for cultural resource technical specialist involvement. Such information may not be immediately available, so the SHPO may be first notified of the fire, and consulted during and after plan development. The SHPO may make recommendations regarding the protection of cultural resources that the incident manager should take into account in conducting fire suppression activities.

Appropriate tribal leaders are notified as soon as possible after the outbreak, and provided with the same information that is given to the SHPO. Indian tribes may value particular resources within the wildfire area and be able to identify the locations of those resources in order to afford them protection during fire suppression actions. Tribal members may have valuable knowledge of the landscape and be able to offer information regarding sources of water, terrain, the location of trails and access roads, and fuel load conditions. The incident manager takes into account the concerns of tribes and makes a reasonable effort to avoid or protect cultural resources of value during efforts to contain or control fires.

Qualified tribal representatives may serve as THSPs when a wildfire burns on Indian lands and Federal lands. Cultural resource managers preparing notification lists include tribal representatives.

Fire Management Plans and Cultural Resources

In addition to preparing for structural fire and wild fire incidents, all parks with burnable vegetation develop and maintain wildland fire management plans, and parks with structures follow protocols in structural fire management plans. Both types of plans outline procedures to follow in the event of a fire. Cultural resource protection must be identified as a management objective in the fire management plans. Park, regional, and center cultural resource managers ensure that protection of cultural resources during fires is considered by participating in the development of the plans.

More information about cultural resource information in wildland and structural fire management plans is available in Wildland Fire Planning and Cultural Resources and Structural Fires and Cultural Resources.