New Bill To Increase Firefighter Safety in Wildfires

Source: 43416875 - 123RF

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. House of Representatives has passed Senator Maria Cantwell’s (D-WA) Wildfire Management Technology Advancement Act, which would bring federal firefighting agencies across the country into the 21st century.

The bill passed the House 363-62 with no amendments and now heads to the president’s desk to be signed into law. 

The bill increases firefighter safety by requiring wildfire crews be provided a GPS locator and mandating that drones be used to scout out and map wildfires in real time. Wildfire Today refers to the simultaneous use of real-time mapping and GPS locators as the ‘Holy Grail’ of firefighter safety. 

Cantwell stated in a news release, “These provisions will help firefighters and communities, and we need to do everything we can, as we see fire seasons extending and having more catastrophic events. We need to give communities and firefighters every tool possible.”

Tools that will increase firefighter safety include:

  • Safety alerts for managers that require the Forest Service to update the wildfire decision support software that fire managers use to inform and document their decisions while managing a wildfire;
  • An injury Database to track on-the-job injuries and deaths of wildland firefighters.  Having data to know what types of activities are causing the most injuries will help managers target training and choose actions that can mitigate risk; and
  • GPS locators for all firefighting crews – regardless of whether they are federal, state, or local – working on large wildfires.

Starting this upcoming fire season, a meteorologist will be assigned to every large wildfire, specifically to provide the public with smoke forecasts. 

Over the last three years, communities have become severely impacted by the smoke from wildfires.  Smoke forecasts have provided communities with the information they need in order to plan for public health and tourism. 

At the height of California’s firefighting efforts this past summer, there were 14,000 firefighters from 17 states, as well as Australia and New Zealand, deployed in the field.

5 died fighting California wildfires in the past year, setting a deadly record even in a state where wildfires are a fact of life.

According to the California Fire Foundation, this is the first time since record-keeping began in 2000 that “so many firefighters have died in so many fires and in so short a span of time.”