Tallahasee, Florida – On May 7, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) presented its second annual National Fire Safety Award to Barton (Bart) Rye, Prescribed Fire/Fuels Technician from St Marks National Wildlife Refuge for a simple suggestion that helped direct a lost firefighter to safety during a prescribed fire.
The Award, presented by John Segar, FWS Chief, Branch of Fire Management from the National Interagency Fire Center, recognizes Rye for his innovative use of Global Positioning System (GPS) technology to more easily map, track and monitor the location of multiple firefighters, vehicles, and aircraft during large burns on the 70,000-acre refuge.
Rye suggested that his fire crew on foot and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) carry GPS transmitter collars, like those worn by his hunting dogs, so that up to ten resources could be tracked in real-time by a Burn Boss on a single hand-held receiver. ATVs and dozers on southeastern forests commonly become high-centered on hard-to-spot stumps in heavy vegetation where they cannot be readily seen by others, risking the loss of life and/or equipment during fires.
The refuge first tested the use of the collars last spring. When a firefighter unfamiliar with southeastern terrain walked into a sawgrass pond while igniting a burn and becoming disoriented in knee-deep water with grass over his head, the GPS device allowed the Burn Boss to verbally direct the firefighter out of harm’s way. In February, a helicopter working a 3800-acre burn carried a collar to allow immediate location of the aircraft in case of an accident.
“Bart’s initiative added a level of safety that wasn’t there before and may very well lead to national implementation,” said Segar. “This system is off-the-shelf and simple to operate.”
The Refuge purchased two hand-held receivers — one each for a Burn Boss and Firing Boss — and a transmitting collar for each prescribed fire crew member. A single transmitter and hand-held receiver together cost about $500.
St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge along Florida’s Gulf Coast conducts 40-50 prescribed burns annually, averaging 300-400 acres each, to reduce the risk of wildfire and maintain fire-resilient landscapes.
(All photos were provided by the FWS.)
(Note from Bill: The Garmin website has information about one of their tracking systems.)