The United Aerial Firefighters Association (UAFA) expresses its support for the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission (WFMMC) and its final report, submitted to Congress on September 27, 2023. The report is a comprehensive and groundbreaking review of the wildfire system, and its recommendations have the potential to significantly improve wildland fire mitigation and management efforts across the country.
UAFA is particularly supportive of the WFMMC’s recommendations to improve aerial firefighting capabilities, as detailed in the Aviation Report that was released earlier this year in February. The UAFA sees many opportunities for collaboration in implementing those recommendations.
However, UAFA is disappointed that the WFMMC’s final report does not include more discussion of recommendations to improve suppression operations outside of the Aviation Report. Suppression and Response is a critical component of the Cohesive Strategy, and it must continue to be part of the conversation until the longer-term progress of the other tenants is realized. Forest health and community hardening initiatives received significant attention in the final report, which the UAFA applauds, but those efforts will struggle to succeed if Suppression and Response efforts are not increased and improved to keep pace with the growing wildfire challenge.
UAFA offers the following additional recommendations for improving suppression operations:
- Work with communities to develop and implement wildfire protection plans that include suppression as a key component. UAFA believes that communities should be involved in the development of wildfire protection plans. These plans should include suppression as a key component, as well as other mitigation and preparedness measures. Wildfire management agencies should collaborate with
communities to develop and implement wildfire protection plans which should include parameters for initial response as part of the National Aviation Strategy. Once a wildfire does enter a community, suppression becomes the priority.
- Establish a long-term funding stream for wildfire suppression that does not limit land management agencies’ resource planning and execution. This would provide the necessary resources not subject to the annual appropriation limitations to ensure that firefighters are always prepared to respond to wildfires, regardless of the size or complexity of the fire or the status of the budget.
- Increase funding for suppression operations to specifically support initial attack to keep fires small in the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI). The federal government’s budget for wildland fire suppression has not kept pace with the growing threat of wildfires in these areas. The WFMMC recommends increasing suppression funding by $1 billion per year. This funding is needed to hire and train more firefighters, purchase new equipment, maintain existing infrastructure, and stage resources so they can respond quickly.
- Support investment by the public and private sector in new technologies and equipment. Suppression tactics have not seen much advancement in the past thirty years. We need to invest in new technologies and equipment to improve the safety and efficiency of suppression operations. This includes things like new firefighting aircraft, fire retardants, and firefighting tools. The UAFA urges Congress and the Administration to encourage performance-based contract requirements and provide funding for research and development of new wildfire suppression technologies and equipment. This could be done via federal, grant or contracted programs. Congress could also give the land management agencies “Other Transaction Authority” (OTA). OTA has been a valuable tool for DoD in its efforts to acquire innovative technologies and services quickly and efficiently.
- Develop and implement comprehensive training programs for all suppression personnel. The UAFA believes that all suppression personnel, government, and non-government, should receive comprehensive training in firefighting tactics and techniques. This training should cover all aspects of wildfire suppression, from initial attack to long-term containment and mop-up.
The UAFA is committed to working with the Forest Service and other wildfire management agencies to implement the recommendations of both the WFMMC’s Aviation and Final Report and to improve wildfire management across the country. We believe that by working together, we can create a more resilient wildfire system that protects our communities and our natural resources.
Specific areas the UAFA can support recommendations from the Aviation Report include:
- Participating in the development of the national aviation strategy.
- Being instrumental in developing and managing nationwide standards and training for pilots and support positions.
- Partnering with the military to ensure greater interoperability and develop a list of desired spare parts; and
- Providing recommendations on how aircraft and UAV can be further utilized to reduce risk and provide data in both prescribed and wildfire.
We believe that these recommendations are essential to ensuring that we have the resources and capabilities we need to suppress wildfires effectively and protect our communities. The UAFA urges Congress and the Administration to implement the recommendations of the Aviation and Final Report as quickly as possible.