Wildfire Budgeting, Response, and Forest Management Act of 2016

Five U.S. Senators are supporting a  bill that would affect wildland firefighting.

The bill’s sponsor Senator Maria Cantwell (WA) said, “In an effort to move the discussion forward, we are asking for feedback on a diverse set of ideas to tackle the challenges of catastrophic wildfires…While not perfect, we are working to drive the discussion toward consensus and a 21st century management strategy.”

WFGI could not agree more with that statement.

Click here to read the draft bill

The following members of Congress were contacted by WFGI to aide in the writing of the proposed Bill- Senator Maria Cantwell (WA), Senator Lisa Murkowski (AK), Senator Ron Wyden (OR), Senator Mike Crapo (ID), Senator James Risch (ID), Senator John McCain (AZ), Senator Jeff Flake (AZ).

In addition to corresponding with the afore mentioned Senators WFGI has provided to them the following letter that addresses concerns that were brought up by the draft bill and we hope that WFGI, and our expertise will be an integral part in their discussions.

Our response:

Wildfire Budgeting, Response, and Forest Management Act of 2016

The Wildland Firefighter Guardian Institute (WFGI) in response to the draft – ‘‘Wildfire Budgeting, Response, and Forest Management Act of 2016’’ has several comments/suggestions/questions to assist in stronger more powerful legislation. We trust our voice will be heard. Through our experience with wildland fire tragedy and the experience of our board and volunteers we have an additional perspective to share.

Our very first concern is that this draft only addresses Type I crews. The WFGI fully believes that this needs to change with the inclusion of Type 2 and Type 3 crews. They too see fire, they too have Incident Commands, and they too have similar responsibilities and dangers as the Type I crew. They should not be ignored.

There is reference to an ‘annual report’. But who will construct this report? Where will the report be housed upon released? The WFGI is in full support that this report will be open to the public but we would like to know how will the public be notified of its release? We truly hope that the wildland community will see the report and not just a congressional committee.

The word ‘risks’ is used. What is the definition of ‘risk’ here. We all understand wildland firefighting is a dangerous job, with specific risk factors that are unique to this type of work. We believe that ‘risk’ needs to be defined in case an incident does happen and it is not ignored based on somebody’s risk evaluation. All incidences need to be independently investigated.

The Wildland Firefighter Guardian Institute would like to know who decides the ‘suggested corrective action’? This needs to be addressed, who is the specific organization or group that will issue the corrective action and who will monitor to see that actions have happened?

The WFGI would like to know who provides the ‘lessons learned’? There is a Lessons Learned organization based in Tucson, Arizona. This group is amazing but an overworked two-person organization. They provide wonderful work but they could be and often times are overwhelmed. We believe that this needs to be addressed because we fully believe only through education does change happen.

“Wildfire Risk Reduction Projects – sub category The National Strategy: the Final Phase of the Development of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy”

We believe it should be shown that urban/wildland communities should have an Inter-agency fuels reduction crew working year round that could achieve points (A) – (C). There needs to be an education component to show the communities how to move forward.

There is a reference to a system but what is the systems are currently being used? It reads like there are currently multiple systems and there is movement towards a single system.   The WFGI believe this is good goal but how will that be done and who will construct the new system. What organization will be handling the combining? Who will review the final system and will there be a trial period reviewing its success?

The use of unmanned aircraft systems to managing wildland fires is a whole new learning curve not only to our nation but also to wildland fire. Incident Command will need additional personnel for this area with specific education and expertise. How would this be implemented what education/certifications will be required? This is amazing technology and can save money but more importantly save lives.

In regards to ‘Section 203 – Location Tracking System for Wildland Firefighters’, the WFGI fully supports this requirement (again we request it be for Type Two and Type Three crews also). We were founded because of the 19 deaths at the Yarnell Hill Fire. Our board is made up of two widows, one mother, two Granite Mountain Inter-agency Hotshot survivors, and all of the current board members were friends of Andrew Ashcraft or Billy Warneke. We believe that if this type of tracking was in place during this fire the outcome may have been different. Yet, there are many, many deaths within the wildland fire community that would have never occurred if this technology would have been used. There will need to be training on this technology along with education on its value within the wildland fire community, these aspects need to be addressed.

Note that the Wildland Firefighter Guardian Institute is passionately striving to be a voice for the wildland firefighter and their families. We support and hope to help in education, research, and change. Please take a few moments to address our comments/suggestions/questions. We will be here to help and watch what occurs in the wildland fire future.

Sincerely,

Wildland Firefighter Guardian Institute