Kristin Swoboda accepts position in NPS Aviation Branch

Kristin Swoboda
Kristin Swoboda. NPS photo by Tina Boehle.

Kristin Swoboda has been named as the new fleet, pilot, and unmanned aircraft (UAS) specialist for the National Park Service. She will have oversight over the agency’s government owned and operated aircraft.

The last NPS person in the position was Jim Traub who retired in 2014. Christina Boehle, a spokesperson for the NPS, said that from 2014 to 2018 the duties were performed by a contractor.

The National Park Service Aviation Branch has been led by Chief Meg Gallagher since April of this year. Before that Ms. Gallagher was an Aviation Management Specialist responsible for the NPS’ helicopter operations. That position, a GS-12/13, is being advertised now.

Ms. Swoboda just transferred to the National Park Service after working for the Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) in Boise, Idaho as their regional UAS manager. During her time with the bureau, she initiated their involvement with Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS). Kristin was instrumental in assisting the development of a department-level UAS policy for the Department of the Interior (DOI) and was part of the team of DOI subject matter experts who worked with NASA to evaluate and select potential new unmanned aircraft. She completed her formal education at the University of Idaho where she graduated with a degree in Forest Resources Ecosystems Management and a minor in Wildfire Management.

She began her federal career with the US Forest Service working in a variety of positions in wildland fire operations, prescribed fire, aviation, engine crews, as well as on an interagency hotshot crew.

In the past few years, her interest in unmanned aircraft carried over into the creation of a personal commercial UAS business focused mainly on precision agriculture applications. This has aided in increasing her breadth of knowledge in unmanned operations, camera/sensor deployment, and the creation of multiple types of data products.

Kristin also holds a private pilot’s license and owns a Beechcraft Sierra B24R low-wing monoplane. She has experience in flying various types of aircraft including an Atec Faeta, Piper Archer, Piper Warrior, Cirrus SR22, Columbia 400 and Cessna Taildraggers. Fostering her love of flying has accelerated her passion to expand her aviation knowledge, and to develop this enthusiasm in others.

Jim Traub National Park Service
Jim Traub (right) at AirVenture in Oshkosh, WI in 2009. He retired July 30, 2014.

Photos from the Holy Fire in Orange County, California

(Above: The Holy Fire as seen from the 747 Supertanker August 6, 2018. Credit: Hiroshi Ando, Drop System Operator, Global SuperTanker)

(This article first appeared on WildfireToday.com)

These photos of the Holy Fire in Orange County, California were taken August 6.

Holy Fire California HC-130H
An HC-130H at the Holy Fire, August 6, 2018. It is either Tanker 116 or 118. ABC7 image.
Holy Fire Orange County California
A lead plane over the Holy Fire as seen from the 747 Supertanker August 6, 2018. Credit: Hiroshi Ando, Drop System Operator, Global SuperTanker.
Holy Fire Orange County California
The Holy Fire as seen from the 747 Supertanker August 6, 2018. Credit: Hiroshi Ando, Drop System Operator, Global SuperTanker.

Continue reading “Photos from the Holy Fire in Orange County, California”

Plumas Hotshots assist with plane crash

Above: California Highway Patrol photo

From the U.S. Forest Service in California:

“Following a dispatch from the Plumas County Sheriff, the Plumas National Forest Hotshots and Plumas County Search & Rescue responded to a single engine plane incident in Indian Creek near Indian Falls, early this [Friday] morning [May 18]. Thankfully, the plane’s occupants suffered only minor injuries. The skilled firefighters, ensuring there was no wildland fire threat, provided initial patient care, directed the ambulance to the scene and then transferred care to the ambulance staff. The California Highway Patrol provided traffic control on CA Hwy 89. We’re grateful to have our first responders when we need them! A big thanks to all of you!”

Meg Gallagher named branch chief for NPS aviation

Margaret “Meg” Gallagher
Meg Gallagher. Photo by Tina Boehle.

By Tina Boehle

Margaret “Meg” Gallagher has been named as the new branch chief for the National Park Service (NPS) Aviation Program, succeeding Jon Rollens, who retired at the end of 2017. Meg is currently the acting aviation branch chief, having previously served as the national helicopter specialist for the NPS Aviation Program.

Meg began her career in the federal government as a Student Conservation Association (SCA) volunteer for Olympic National Park as a backcountry ranger. Over the next five years, she worked in wildland fire management for the U.S. Forest Service, NPS, and Bureau of Land Management as a seasonal wildland firefighter on hotshot crews, in fire dispatch, fire prevention, and as a helitack crewmember.

In 1992, two years after completing the Joint Apprenticeship Committee (JAC) Wildland Firefighter Apprenticeship Program, she moved to the Toiyabe National Forest as the assistant helicopter manager in Las Vegas, NV. In 1995, she became the helitack program manager of the Bridger-Teton/Grand Teton interagency rappel/shorthaul program in Jackson, WY. The following year, Meg spent a season on the “Ice,” as a helicopter specialist for Antarctica Support Associates at McMurdo Station in Antarctica.

In 1998, as a warranted contracting officer, she became the aviation resource specialist for the Department of the Interior Office of Aircraft Services (OAS), then five years later stepped into the role of aviation training specialist for the thirty-seven states in the OAS’s Eastern Region. In 2009, Meg was hired by the NPS as an aviation management specialist. Among her diverse duties, she filled the role of regional aviation manager for NPS’s three eastern regions.

Most recently, Meg became the national helicopter specialist for the NPS Aviation Program in 2014. For the past four years in Boise, ID, she has built national operational plans for NPS’s high-risk programs with the experts in the regions and parks, as well as kept the Service up-to-date on quickly changing policy that shapes the Service’s aviation operations.

NPS Division of Fire and Aviation Chief, Bill Kaage stated, “With Meg’s understanding of the many aspects of aviation within the National Park Service, her focus on policy and safety, as well as her experience at local, regional, national, and departmental levels, I have great confidence that the NPS Aviation Program will continue to excel as it moves forward.”

Meg stated, “I look forward to leading the National Park Service’s Aviation Program into the future with evolving technology, while building on our current excellent safety record. I also look forward to filling vacancies so we can provide the best customer service to all National Park Service employees who use aviation to meet the mission.”

Meg and her partner reside near Boise. When not working, she enjoys travelling, riding her motorcycle, snowshoeing, and enjoying fine Idaho vintages.

She will begin her new position on April 15, 2018.

Nominations being accepted for 2018 Aerial Firefighting Award

Aerial Firefighting Award

Nominations are now being accepted for the 2018 Aerial Firefighting Award, which recognises  a significant contribution by an individual or organization to aerial firefighting.

The Award was inaugurated in honor of the late Walt Darran and is previously known as the “Walt Darran Award”. Walt was a pioneer and advocate for advances in aerial firefighting. Being a highly experienced S2-T air tanker pilot and former highly decorated US Navy aviator from California, USA, Walt was a constant and passionate advocate for safety and improvement in the international aerial firefighting.

You can complete a nomination form at www.aerial-firefighting-award.com/

The closing date for nominations is March 2, 2018. The winner will be announced March 13 at the Aerial Firefighting North America 2018 conference in Sacramento CA, USA.

Previous winners:

  • 2014: George Petterson, USA
  • 2015: Philippe Bodino, France
  • 2016: Jim Cook, USA
  • 2017: Jacques Bonneval, France

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.