Cantwell, Gardner Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Modernize Firefighting Technology

Senators Plan Would Bring State-of-the-Art Technology to Firelines Across the Country

January 10, 2018

Washington D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) introduced the Wildfire Management Technology Advancement Act of 2017, a bill designed to bring firefighting agencies into the 21st century.

This bill will increase firefighter safety by requiring the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior to begin providing GPS locations for crews on wildfires and to begin using Unmanned Aircraft Systems to scout out and map wildfires in real-time.  Wildfire Today refers to the simultaneous use of mapping aircraft and GPS locators as the ‘Holy Grail’ of firefighter safety.

“Firefighters on the front lines and those who give their lives to protect us deserve fair treatment from their government,” Senator Cantwell said. “My legislation would combine these two technologies [real-time fire mapping and GPS locating] to give our firefighters more safety and security as they deal with these unbelievable conditions.”

In addition to the use of advanced technology, the Wildfire Management Technology Advancement Act of 2017 requires that trends in firefighter injuries be analyzed in order to target training to prevent future injuries and fatalities. 

Communities and businesses would also benefit from provisions in the Wildfire Management Technology Advancement Act of 2017. This bill directs the Agencies to work with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and the Department of the Interior’s National Labs, e.g., the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, to better predict the areas that will most likely experience large wildfires during fire season. These forecasts will allow for agencies to more strategically stage resources before fires occur. In addition, this legislation requires smoke forecasters be assigned to all large wildfires to provide the most accurate information to those impacted by a wildfire.

Finally, this bill includes provisions to streamline firefighting response.  Cost-share funding is authorized for at-risk communities to install and operate next-generation reverse-911 systems, potentially speeding up evacuations and saving lives. This legislation also authorizes disaster agencies to make use of NASA’s tools to speed-up the installation of post-fire, erosion-prevention measures.

The Wildfire Management Technology Advancement Act of 2017 has received support from national firefighter organizations:

"Wildland firefighters need the support of Congress to get federal agencies to utilize the best available science and most advanced technology in federal fire management. The past two decades have seen millions of tax dollars invested in research and development of high-tech tools that can accurately map, monitor, and model wildfire spread. Senator Cantwell's proposed legislation will enable us to reap the benefits of those investments to improve the safety and success of crews managing wildfires," said Timothy Ingalsbee, executive director of Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics, and Ecology.

“Wildfires are having an increasing impact on public and firefighter safety,” said Lorraine Carli, Vice President of Outreach and Advocacy for the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). “Legislative support for technologies that streamline firefighting response and improve safety conditions for first responders and residents alike is critical as this threat grows. This bill will help get key scientific research and knowledge applied where it will make a significant difference.”

Senator Cantwell has worked for years to pass bipartisan wildfire legislation. In 2015, she visited Washington State, holding a series of roundtables and listening sessions on best practices to fight wildfires, as well as a field hearing on the topic. The legislation being introduced today incorporates ideas Senator Cantwell heard during those sessions. 

“Firefighters on the front lines and those who give their lives to protect us deserve fair treatment from their government,” said Senator Cantwell during a March 2017 hearing when she announced she was working with Senator Cory Gardner on bipartisan legislation to give firefighters access to state-of-the-art technology to assist in firefighting around the country.

The full text of the bill can be found here.