September 19, 2012
Oregon’s Wildland Urban Interface Patrol program received an award this week recognizing the program for its work to reduce the incidence of arson. Informally known as the “Wildland Arson Patrol,” the collaborative project of the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) and Oregon State Police (OSP) garnered the Oregon Chapter 31 International Association of Arson Investigators’ (IAAI) Outstanding Accomplishment Award presented Wednesday during the association’s training conference.
Prompted by a rash of costly wildfires set by arsonists during the early 1990s, the patrol came into being in 1997 and combined the law enforcement skills of veteran OSP state troopers with the wildland fire know-how of ODF’s field investigators.
At the outset, both agencies determined that a neighborhood watch effort was needed in high-risk arson areas, along with a rapid-response capability to respond to critical situations anywhere in ODF’s far-reaching fire protection jurisdiction: 16 million acres of private and public forest and rangeland.
The arson patrol officers serve a dual function: Assist other law enforcement agencies to investigate suspicious wildfires, and educate the public on how to detect and report possible arson incidents. In their education role, they also press the need to practice fire prevention for both arson and other human-caused fires.
Already trained and experienced in criminal investigation, the troopers quickly picked up the knowledge of wildland fire scene investigation they would need to do the job.
“They were essentially able to hit the ground running,” ODF’s Jeff Bonebrake said. “And as sworn officers, they bring with them authorities and capabilities that we as an agency are not able to provide directly.”
Retired State Troopers Jim Davis, Klamath Falls, and Bill Lyons, Bend, are working the Arson Patrol during the 2012 wildfire season. The beat is a familiar one to both men, as each worked the arson patrol in years’ past.
“Harnessing the training and experiences retired State Troopers have for this type of a program is a huge benefit for Department of Forestry, law enforcement, and everyone who uses our natural resources,” said OSP Major Travis Hampton. “Their proactive contacts prevent fires from starting, and when a fire does happen they are a critical resource to help determine if it was human-caused.”
The IAAI award was presented at the Oregon Chapter 31 awards banquet held in Hood River on Sept. 19. The Outstanding Accomplishment Award is presented to municipalities, agencies (law enforcement or private), and companies which have developed successful programs which help to reduce the incidence of arson by implementing and achieving a progressive, innovative and successful program. One award is presented annually. The Outstanding Accomplishment Award is also known as the Bill Hakim Award. Oregon State Police Senior Trooper Bill Hakim died in the line of duty as a result of a bomb explosion at a Woodburn-area bank on December 12, 2008.