President proposes some reductions in wildland fire budget

Above: The President’s proposal for funding wildland fire in the U.S. Forest Service in Fiscal Year 2018. Source: USFS.

(Originally published at 6 p.m. MST November 9, 2017)

While the federal government keeps throwing additional billions of dollars at the Department of Defense to fund our adventures in countries on the other side of the world, the budget for the war against wildfire in our homeland would be cut in some areas while most functions would remain flat if the President’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2018 is approved by Congress.

In May the President proposed budgets for the Forest Service and the four primary land management agencies in the Department of the Interior: Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  However, Congress, as usual, has not finalized appropriations bills for these agencies for Fiscal Year 2018 which started October 1, 2017. The House passed a version in September, but the Senate has yet to take meaningful action.

The agencies have been operating on a continuing resolution (CR) which expires December 8. It is likely that some kind of showdown will happen around that date, with the worst case scenario being a government shutdown. Or, they could keep passing successive CRs for the rest of the fiscal year, which would lock the funding into the FY 2017 numbers. Of course, CRs were in effect for all of FY 2017. Apparently our elected Senators and Representatives think they have better things to do than fund the government.

If Congress actually does pass a funding bill for these land management agencies, the line by line details and numbers will most likely be different from the President’s proposals, but below we spell out what the administration would like to see happen this fiscal year that started October 1.

Forest Service

In the FS as a whole, the President would like to reduce the number of employees (jobs), cutting the number of staff-years by 5.7 percent. Wildland fire personnel in the FS would remain the same — a total of 10,000, including 67 Interagency Hotshot Crews, 7,940 other firefighters, 320 Smokejumpers, and 400 Fire Prevention Technicians. Fire Suppression would be funded at the 10-year average.

The exact numbers and trends are difficult to track because the Base 8 (the first 8 hours of a firefighter’s regular work day) will now be paid out of Preparedness rather than Suppression. And funds for Hazardous Fuels are shifting from fire funding to National Forest System accounts.

In 2017 the FS reduced the number of the largest helicopters, Type 1, from 34 to 28. The President aims to retain that smaller number. Type 2 and 3 helicopters would remain the same at 33 and 46, respectively. The two water-scooping air tankers in the FS would be eliminated completely, while they add one Single Engine Air Tanker, up from zero in 2017. The FS looked at the two years they had the scoopers as an experiment, even though they have been used successfully in Canada, France, Greece, and Spain for decades.

In 2002 the FS had 44 large air tankers on exclusive use contracts. In 2017 they had 20, consisting of 16 Next Generation air tankers and 4 Legacy P2V’s. With the 50+ year old P2V’s now retired, the agency expects to have “up to 20” Next Gen air tankers in FY 2018.

The budget proposal includes funding for only one of the seven HC-130H aircraft obtained from the Coast Guard in December, 2013 that are supposedly being converted into air tankers. The one that has been used for a couple of years is still not completely transformed, and is using a borrowed pressurized Modular Airborne FireFighting System for dispensing retardant rather than employing a conventional permanent (but removable) internal gravity-powered tank.

The budget document has a rather cryptic sentence about air tankers:

Beginning in 2018, the Forest Service will transition to a full cost recovery business model for aviation utilized by cooperating agencies.

We asked a few Washington Office folks what that meant, and they either didn’t know or failed to respond to our inquiry. One person told us that unclear writing in the document could be the result of a changing of the guards and the reviewers not fully being in place at the Departments and the Office of Management and Budget.

The agency has always charged cooperating agencies for the use of FS aircraft, but it sounds like the price will increase. They may tack on in addition to the hourly rate, additional charges such as working capital fund fees that go toward purchasing replacement aircraft at the end of its life cycle.

The President wants to eliminate the agency’s $6,901,000 contribution to the Joint Fire Science Program  (JFSP) which receives its funding through the FS and the Department of the Interior (DOI). According to the budget proposal document:

The JFSP would focus on completing existing projects and standing down science exchange with managers. New research in the Smoke Management and in the Fuels Treatment lines-of-work would be eliminated, as would new research in the Emerging Management Needs initiative. General fire research in the agency would be conducted through the National Fire Plan and the Forest and Rangeland Research appropriations.

The Department of the Interior intends to cut their JFSP contribution in half, down to $3,000.

The web site for the JFSP describes their work as  “funding scientific research on wildland fires and distributing results to help policymakers, fire managers and practitioners make sound decisions”.

The total budget for all research in the FS would be cut by 16 percent, from $329 million to $276 million.

Department of the Interior

The 2018 budget request for DOI’s discretionary Department-wide Wildland Fire Management program is $873.5 million. This is a decrease of $118.3 million, or 12 percent, from FY 2017. It would mean a reduction in Full Time Equivalent employees (FTE) from 3,586 to 3,401, or 5 percent.

The number of “fire personnel” would be cut by 140 personnel (jobs) from 4,221 to 4,081, or 3 percent. Smokejumpers would be reduced from 145 to 140, or 3 percent, and engines from 610 to 605, or 1 percent.

The numbers of all DOI firefighting aircraft would remain the same, except single engine air tankers would be cut from 34 to 32, or 6 percent.

Department of the Interior Fire Preparedness funding FY 2018
The President’s proposal for Department of the Interior Fire Preparedness funding for FY 2018. Source: DOI.

As stated above, the DOI’s contribution to the Joint Fire Science Program would be cut in half, to $3 million, while the FS will eliminate their share of funding the program.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Bean.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

A new member of the Fire Aviation team

Jason PohlToday we’d like to introduce a new member of the Wildfire Today and Fire Aviation team, Jason Pohl. He will be contributing articles beginning May 7 while I am temporarily tied up on a project.

Jason Pohl reports on law enforcement and public safety issues for the Fort Collins Coloradoan newspaper, which is part of the USA TODAY Network. A 2012 graduate of journalism and sociology at Colorado State University, Pohl has reported in Colorado newsrooms including The Denver Post, Greeley Tribune, and, since March 2014, the Coloradoan. Most recently, Pohl — who has been trained as an EMT and wildland firefighter — embedded for two weeks with a team of firefighters and first responders conducting refugee rescues on the Mediterranean Sea, off the coast of Libya. He has also written about wildfire, first responder mental health and other public safety, breaking news and accountability topics.

Pohl in December successfully defended his master’s thesis in sociology at Colorado State University. Through dozens of interviews and extensive fieldwork, Pohl investigated emergency evacuation messaging during natural disasters, specifically the 2013 Colorado Floods that came on the heels of devastating wildfires in the state. Outside of journalism, Pohl is an avid marathon runner who enjoys indulging in a craft beer — or three — and exploring Colorado’s high peaks with his wife and adventure partner.

Air tanker base to be established at Austin, Texas

The base will be formally unveiled February 16, 2017.

Above: Air Tanker 43, a P2V, at the permanent (not portable) Rapid City Air Tanker Base, July 21, 2017 during the Myrtle Fire.

A new portable air tanker base is being established at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Texas. The funds for the equipment were provided by the Texas Legislature through the Texas Wildfire Protection Plan.

This is the second portable base in Texas capable of refilling air tankers with long term fire retardant. The other is based in Abilene.

“This tanker base represents a monumental advancement in wildfire preparedness for our area,” said state Rep. John Cyrier, whose Central Texas district includes communities affected by the 2015 Hidden Pines Fire and the 2011 Bastrop Complex of Fires. Together, these fires burned 39,000 acres and destroyed more than 1700 homes.

The equipment will have the capacity to refill large air tankers which typically hold between 2,000 and 4,000 gallons. Bob Griffin of Representative Cyrier’s office could not say for sure if it could refill Very Large Air Tankers such as the 11,600-gallon DC-10 or the 19,200-gallon 747.

An agreement between the Texas A&M Forest Service, Austin Fire Department, and the Austin airport will make onsite real estate and tarmac space available at the airport for staging and operations as well as onsite quarters for flight crews, according to a press release.

Firefighters from the Austin Fire Department and surrounding areas will be trained on the operation of the equipment. The presence of the tanker base, together with local trained emergency personnel, will increase the speed with which air tankers can be mobilized to fight wildfires in central Texas. The equipment is portable and can be moved to fight wildfires in other parts of the state.

Do pilots use the quadratic formula?

Quadratic formulaWe received this question from a high school student in Florida:

…Recently, my Algebra 2 teacher assigned a project to see if men and women in important professions use algebra in real life applications. In our math book it claims that, “Firefighting pilots can use the Quadratic Formula to estimate when to release water on a fire.” My question to you is do you really use the Quadratic Formula to put out a forest fire? If not, how do you do it? Thank you very much for any help you are able to provide and have a great day!

Let’s hear from some pilots.

  1. When you’re dropping water or retardant do you silently solve the quadratic equation in your head? If not, how do you determine when to release the load?
  2. Are there any occasions in your day to day work activities when you use algebra?

In case you want to brush up on the quadratic formula: Wikipedia.

Jim Cook receives Walt Darren Award

Jim Cook was honored for helping to develop the Fire Traffic Area.

Above: Jim Cook (right) receives the Walt Darren International Aerial Firefighting Award from David Wardall. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Jim Cook received the Walt Darran International Aerial Firefighting Award March 22 at the Aerial Firefighting Conference in Sacramento, California. The honor is given annually to recognize a significant contribution to aerial firefighting by an individual or organization.

Mr. Cook was recognized for his part in developing the concept of the Fire Traffic Area, a system of air traffic control for firefighting aircraft over an incident. The need for organizing aircraft into a pattern became painfully evident when two S2 air tankers collided over the Bus Fire August 27, 2001 in Mendocino County in northern California. The two pilots, Larry Groff of Santa Rosa and Lars Stratte of Chico, were killed.

The Fire Traffic Area procedure requires that aircraft approaching a fire make initial radio contact 12 nautical miles out, and should not approach any closer than 7 miles if radio contact is not successful.

Fire Traffic Area
Fire Traffic Area. Graphic from Associated Aerial Firefighters.
Fire Traffic Area
Fire Traffic Area, from the Interagency Aerial Supervision Guide.

The Walt Darren award was first presented in 2014 at the Aerial Firefighting Conference in Sacramento, California, USA. Mr. Darran was a highly experienced airtanker pilot from California and a constant and passionate advocate for safety and improvement in aerial firefighting industry.

George Petterson received the award the first time it was presented in 2014. The next year it was given to Philippe Bodino.

Nominations being accepted for International Aerial Firefighting Award

The closing date for nominations is February 19, 2016

The Walt Darran International Aerial Firefighting Award is presented annually to recognize a significant contribution to aerial firefighting by an individual or organization. It was first awarded in 2014 at the Aerial Firefighting Conference in Sacramento, California, USA.

Walt Darran
Walt Darran

The award is named after the late Walt Darran who was a highly experienced airtanker pilot from California and a constant and passionate advocate for safety and improvement in aerial firefighting industry.

The award is administered by the Walt Darran Award Committee which is currently made up of a consortium of existing groups involved in aerial firefighting from International Fire Aviation Working Group (IFAWG), UN-ISDR Wildland Fire Advisory Group (WFAG) members, and Associated Aerial Firefighters.

Nominations are now being accepted for 2016.

Articles about the recipients of the awards in 2014 and 2015, George Petterson and Philippe Bodino, can be seen here.

The Award Charter states:

  • Any person who has made a significant contribution to furthering the safety and/or effectiveness and/or efficiency of aerial firefighting is eligible to be nominated. The Award may recognise contributions either over recent year(s) or over a sustained period.
  • An organization that has made an outstanding contribution to furthering the safety and/or effectiveness and/or efficiency of aerial firefighting is also eligible to be nominated.

The closing date for nominations is February 19, 2016.

To nominate someone for the award please download and complete this form.

The award will be presented at the Aerial Firefighting International 2016 conference in Sacramento, California, USA, March 22-23, 2016.

Walt Darran Award 2015
Philippe Bodino, center, received the award in 2015. Left to right: Jerome Laval, Cal Fire pilot and a Walt Darran very close friend; Richard Alder, General Manager, National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC) in Australia; Philippe Bodino; Rear Admiral Terry Loughran (CB FRAes) Royal Navy, Tangent Link Chairman and conference speaker; and Jeff Cavarra, Program Manager at DynCorp International.

Dubai orders jetpacks for first responders

Martin jetpack
Martin jetpack. Photo by Martin Aircraft.

Emergency services personnel in Dubai are known to think outside the box when it comes to transporting first responders to incidents, as evidenced by the Corvette used by their civil defense organization. Now they have placed an order for 20 “jetpacks” made by Martin Aircraft, propelled not by jet engines, but by ducted fans.

From the BBC:

A deal between Dubai’s civil defense force and New Zealand-based Martin Aircraft suggests that the technology is about to move mainstream.

For decades, jetpack fans have predicted a future when we would be using personal power-packs – like James Bond in the 1965 film Thunderball.

Now, Dubai has announced an initial order for up to 20 Martin jetpacks, plus simulators and a training package, for delivery next year.

No financial details were disclosed at the Dubai Airshow, other than it is a multi-million-dollar contract. Each jetpack has a catalogue price of $250,000 (£165,000).

But these will not be used as the latest must-have for the wealthy and foolish. Dubai wants them for more serious reasons.

Lt Col Ali Hassan Almutawa, director of the Dubai Civil Defence Operations Department, said the packs would be used for reconnaissance and rescue.

“We see them performing a first-responder role,” he says, adding that the jetpacks would be particularly useful in the fire department during emergencies in Dubai’s skyscrapers.

“Sometimes we have challenges or difficulties to reach the top floors of those buildings. The aircraft can go into confined spaces to size-up the situation. We are going to modify them with thermal imaging cameras,” he says.