June 8, 2016 – greatfallstribune.com- A group of Russians involved in fighting wildland fires is visiting Montana this week.
The group is meeting with federal, state, local and private organizations related to wilderness and forest management, as well as wildland firefighting agencies during its trip to learn and share with its counterparts. The group also visited with a Canadian fire chief who participated in the Fort McMurray fire response.
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The five Russians representing non-governmental fire agencies, plus a facilitator and translator, are in Great Falls through the Open World Leadership Program and are hosted by the city’s Advisory Commission on International Relations. Open World is funded by the U.S. State Department and it’s the 12th delegation to visit Great Falls and be hosted by ACIR.
“These people are all devoted to what we do and as crazy as we are,” said Sofiya Kosacheva, who works with volunteers for Greenpeace Russia in Moscow.
Grigoriy Kuskin heads the Greenpeace Russia Fire-Protection Program in Sverdlovskiy and said in their visits, they realized they speak the same professional language with American and Canadian fire agencies, even if they need the help of a translator.
“Some of the things we see here make us jealous,” Kuskin said through a translator about the American firefighting agencies and resources. “We want to make sure everything is as good in our country as it can be.”
The group said it was especially impressed with the coordination between agencies.
“I think this is a very good example for us,” Kuskin said.
In Russia, the group said that many times, government officials will conceal fires or find reasons not to spend money on fire suppression efforts.
Kuskin said part of their visit is gathering information on how North American agencies respond to wildland fires and using that to strengthen their advocacy efforts for increases government attention to fires in Russia.
Mariya Vasilyeva, Kuskin’s counterpart in Nekrasovskiy, is a fire photographer, in addition to other duties that include firefighting operations. Her photos are used to help raise awareness of the destruction of wildland fires in the group’s efforts to get more government support and also prevent future fires. According to the group, she’s one of the best fire photographers in Russia.
They also shared strategies and information on equipment used in Russia that the group felt could be useful in the U.S., Kuskin said.
Kuskin said that the official government data shows that only tens of thousands of hectares are burning in Russia during the year, when in reality it’s millions of hectares.
Often, he said, by the time the government sends firefighting resources to augment the volunteer firefighters already on the ground, “it’s too late to do something about it … and sometimes it costs them their lives.”
One measure of success for their efforts would be to see a drop in arson cases throughout Russia, and they have seen such a drop in the Moscow region, they said.
But on a smaller scale, “each saved house or each saved tree,” Kosacheva said, “that for us is success.”
The group will present a talk on its trip and life in Russia at the Great Falls Public Library from 7-8 p.m. Thursday. The event is free and open to the public.
The vast majority of forest, prairie and wildland fires in Russia are human caused, the group said, and many of its efforts focus on prevention and encouraging people to change behaviors.