On Friday the Colorado Senate unanimously passed a revised version of SB14-164, completing another step towards the state being able to issue contracts for firefighting aircraft. If the House passes the same version of the bill, this year there would be up to three helicopters fighting wildland fires in the state and in 2015 they could add up to four large air tankers to the fleet.
This version of the bill is very different from the one that was first introduced, which listed numerous specific requirements for the types and capabilities of the aircraft, including night flying air tankers, which would have been the first on the planet Earth.
The configuration of the bill allows and actually states, that the legislators intend for the subject matter experts that will work for the Colorado Firefighting Air Corp (CFAC) to make the decisions about the specifications of the aircraft. The legislation when it was introduced took many of those decisions out of the hands of the fire aviation specialists. Instead, they were made by politicians who had no applicable expertise. The current version passed by the Senate requires that the CFAC adhere as nearly as possible to the recommendations as presented in the Special report: Colorado firefighting Air Corp, report to the Governor and General Assembly on strategies to enhance the state’s aerial firefighting capabilities, which was released March 28, 2014.
The bill allows the CFAC to use 19.3 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions, or employees, in the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2014. A previously passed bill, “FY 2014-15 Long Bill”, appropriated $19.67 million for the Division of Fire Prevention and Control to acquire aircraft.
The legislation also creates a “center of excellence for advanced technology aerial firefighting”, to…:
- Serve as a laboratory to evaluate the “three fundamental contributing factors to successful aerial firefighting: effectiveness, efficiency, and sustainability”.
- Conduct research to evaluate new technology in a variety of settings, such as initial attack, night operations, and operations in wildland-urban interface areas.
- Produce data and documentation on science and technology relevant to aerial firefighting.
Since the Senate has passed the bill, it is now up to the House, where it was introduced April 25 and referred to the Agriculture, Livestock, and Natural Resources Committee.