On September 18 and 19, 2023, over twenty members of the United Aerial Firefighters Association (UAFA) visited Capitol Hill to meet with over thirty congressional offices including many of the representatives themselves, to advocate for our industry and our mission. The purpose of the visit was to introduce UAFA and discuss two major legislative changes that would make federal contracts for fire suppression more effective and efficient:
The most important is a change in the definition of what suppression funds can be used for. Due to the limited amount of preparedness funds allotted for pre-season contracts, call when needed contracts have been more prevalent. A change in the definition would allow the use of suppression funds for pre-season exclusive use contracts, rather than just on-call contracts. This would provide more stability and predictability for both the contractors and the agencies, as well as reduce costs and increase efficiency.
The second request works with the first to encourage longer-term contracts by removing the agencies’ requirement to fund the cancellation ceiling at the time of award for multi-year contracts. A multi-year contract is different from a multiple-year contract in that there is a guarantee for the entire term vice a base period and multiple option periods. This would allow the Forest Service to award longer term contracts with aerial firefighting companies without requiring its limited preparedness funds to languish on an accounting line for years in the event the contract is cancelled. This would also allow the Forest Service to secure lower overall rates from aerial firefighting companies since the companies would have the stability they need to invest in new equipment and retain experienced personnel.
The UAFA members met with a variety of congressional staff members, including members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, and the House and Senate Natural Resources Committees. The UAFA members shared their stories about the challenges of fighting wildfires and explained how the proposed legislative changes would help them to be more effective in protecting communities and the environment. Several congressional members commented on the fact that industry competitors were in the room together to discuss the issues meant something in the federal system was broken.
“It is important to engage with elected officials to communicate and educate the about the aerial fire industry and to continue to support the wildland fire suppression effort” said Paul Petersen, UAFA Executive Director. “UAFA engagement with Congress and Agencies is a critical role of our organization to support our members”
The UAFA’s visit to Capitol Hill was a success. The association members were able to raise awareness about the critical role that aerial firefighting plays in protecting communities from wildfires and to build support for their legislative priorities. The UAFA is committed to continuing to work with Congress to pass legislation that will make federal contracts for fire suppression more effective and efficient. More UAFA outreach is expected in early 2024 when Congress is drafting the FY2025 budget.
Aerial firefighting is a vital service that protects lives, property, and natural resources from the devastating effects of wildfires. We are proud to be part of this community, and we thank all our members and supporters for their dedication and commitment. We have members from corporate, affiliate and partner organizations. Join us at www.uafa.org.