Video of DC-10 air tanker in Australia

We have not heard very much about air tanker 911, the DC-10, since it arrived in Australia on December 14 to evaluate its effectiveness on bush fires. But we do know that in early January it received certification from the Australian regulatory authorities to operate in the country.

The Country Fire Authority recently put together a fact sheet and this video about the aircraft.

Here are some photos of Air Tanker 911 down under, courtesy of the Country Fire Authority.

AT-911_parked DC-10 air tanker

AT-911_tanks DC-10 air tanker

AT-911_interior DC-10 air tanker

AT-911_crew DC-10 air tanker

Researchers: smoke promotes the germination of some seeds

We used to say “Wood smoke is good smoke”, when downplaying the negative aspects of putting smoke into the air during a prescribed fire. But apparently to some species that is literally the truth. Researchers have found that plant-derived smoke is a potent seed germination promoter for many species.

From an article in Science Daily:

Forest fire smoke. Photo by Bill Gabbert
Photo: Bill Gabbert

The innermost secrets of fire’s role in the rebirth and renewal of forests and grasslands are being revealed in research that has identified plant growth promoters and inhibitors in smoke. In the latest discovery about smoke’s secret life, an international team of scientists are reporting discovery of a plant growth inhibitor in smoke.

The study appears in ACS’s Journal of Natural Products.
“Smoke plays an intriguing role in promoting the germination of seeds of many species following a fire,” Johannes Van Staden and colleagues point out in the report. They previously discovered a chemical compound in smoke from burning plants that promotes seed germination. Such seeds, which remain in the undercover on forest and meadow floors after fires have been extinguished, are responsible for the surprisingly rapid regrowth of fire-devastated landscapes.

In their new research, the scientists report discovery of an inhibitor compound that may block the action of the stimulator, preventing germination of seeds. They suspect that the compounds may be part of a carefully crafted natural regulatory system for repopulating fire-ravaged landscapes. Interaction of these and other compounds may ensure that seeds remain dormant until environmental conditions are best for germination. The inhibitor thus may delay germination of seeds until moisture and temperature are right, and then take a back seat to the germination promoter in smoke.

The research was conducted at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, the University of Stellenbosch, the University of Copenhagen,  and the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic.

Thanks Stephen

Armed man thwarts theft of fire truck

On Monday a Montrose, Colorado man tried to steal a fire truck out of the garage of Lawerence Sanderson, who contracts with federal land management agencies for the use of the truck on wildland fires. The truck had the keys in it and was unlocked in the garage with the garage doors open when Sanderson’s neighbor alerted him that someone was trying to steal the truck.

Michael A. Chavez had started the truck, which was facing out in the garage, and put it into reverse and slammed the truck into the back wall of the garage, damaging the wall. About that time, Sanderson entered the garage and pointed a 9 mm handgun at Chavez’s chest, who asked if he was under arrest. Sanderson assured him that he was, but when Chavez figured out that Sanderson was not a law enforcement officer he advanced toward Sanderson. The two of them maneuvered around in the driveway until finally Chavez obeyed commands and decided to lie on the ground.

When the Montrose police arrived, Sanderson holstered his weapon and the police took over. Chavez was booked into jail on suspicion of driving under the influence, burglary, criminal mischief, possession of drug paraphernalia, careless driving and being an intoxicated pedestrian in the roadway.

Live discussion about new firefighter pay & liability legislation, Thursday Jan. 28

UPDATE January 28: We held this event and–

The discussion is archived HERE.

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Thursday night, January 28, we will host a live discussion here about the new wildland firefighter pay and liability legislation that was recently introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, the “National Infrastructure Improvement and Cost Containment Act”, H.R. 4488.

Business manager Casey Judd presents Congressman Bob Filner with a plaque in appreciation of his support for our wildland firefighters.
Business manager Casey Judd (right) of the FWFSA presents Congressman Bob Filner with a plaque in appreciation of his support for wildland firefighters.

Casey Judd, the Business Manager for the Federal Wildland Fire Service Association will be our featured panel member and has graciously agreed to respond to your comments and answer your questions about the legislation. Mr. Judd has been working on this legislation for years and deserves a great deal of credit for getting it to this point where it is being considered by committees in the House.

WHO:
Anyone can participate as described below.

HOW:
The format will be text. You will be able to type in your comments or questions in real time and anyone will be able to comment or answer back. However, not necessarily everyone’s comments will appear. If the traffic is heavy, we will selectively choose which comments would be of the most interest to the audience. And, of course, rude or obscene comments will not be approved. You do not need any special software to participate, nor do you need to register. Just choose a name for yourself, then type in your thoughts.

WHERE:
It will be right here at wildfiretoday.com and will be obvious when you come to the site on Thursday night (or Friday down under). The post with the discussion feature will appear 5-10 minutes before the official start time. You will need to refresh your screen if you get here early.

WHEN:
10:00 p.m. ET (Thursday, January 28);
9:00 p.m. CT (Thursday);
8:00 p.m. MT (Thursday);
7:00 p.m. PT (Thursday);
12:00 noon (Friday, January 29) Melbourne, Australia;
05:00 a.m. (Friday) in Athens, Greece; and
02:00 a.m. (Friday January 29) UTC (GMT).

Other Live Discussions we have facilitated:
You can view the discussions we have held previously HERE.

Series of articles about wildfire, by Miller-McCune

The Miller-McCune web site has started a five-part series about wildfire.

Part I: THE FIRES DOWN BELOW: ‘LOOK-DOWN’ TECHNOLOGY
Part II: UNDERSTANDING WILDFIRE BEHAVIOR AND PREDICTING ITS SPREAD
Part III: WHAT’S REALLY HAPPENING ON U.S. FIRELINES
Part IV: CATCHING WILDFIRE ARSONISTS RED-HANDED
Part V: SMART SOLUTIONS GOING FORWARD

Here is a brief excerpt from Part 1, which covers at length many different options and technologies for collecting and distributing real-time or near-real time intelligence about going fires.

The Viz Lab is a large, dimly lit, war room dominated by huge, computer-generated maps projected onto dark walls. Its tool kit includes an array of links to information and imaging feeds gathered by satellites, airplanes, unmanned aerial vehicles (or UAVs) and helicopters from sources like NASA and Google Maps. The lab is bent on delivering real-time (or pretty darned close) computer mapping and imaging to a wildfire’s first responders so they’ll know just what the blaze is doing, where and when.

Data fusion is the name of the game at the San Diego State University’s Immersive Visualization Center — layering sophisticated weather, atmospheric, smoke and fire data and images onto, say, a topographical Google Earth map. It provides an illuminating picture for emergency operations chiefs who urgently need to pinpoint trouble spots and interpret fast-changing developments.

Once, fire perimeters were indicated by simple black lines on old-fashioned land maps — best guesses made from the field without benefit even of GPS. Now, satellites or aircraft use “look down” technology to create 3-D topographical images of what lies below dark, billowing smoke. Tools distinguish live from burned vegetation and show in various colors rapidly updated information on a blaze’s “hot spots” and accelerating or subsiding dangers.

“It’s absolutely dramatically more useful,” explained Eric Frost, co-director of the Viz Lab.

The Viz Lab normally focuses on geographic information systems research for homeland security and disaster relief. But it also proactively tracks everything from brush fires on its doorstep to natural disasters worldwide. Last February, for example, it helped map wildfires in Australia that killed 173 people. “It takes less than half a second to go from here to Australia on fiber optics,” Frost noted.

Here is a video about an unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, being developed by San Diego State University. The researchers have been working with firefighters in an attempt to show them its usefulness on fires.

Federal wildland firefighter pay bill introduced in Congress

On Thursday, January 21, Representative Bob Filner (D, California) introduced into the House of Representatives a bill, the “National Infrastructure Improvement and Cost Containment Act”, that would affect the pay, retirement age, and fireline liability of federal wildland firefighters. Here are some key points of the bill, which was given the number H.R. 4488 (the full text is HERE):

  • Retirement age: The bill would change the mandatory retirement age for a wildland firefighter from 57 to 65.
  • Outsourcing: It adds protection from outsourcing for the five major federal land management agencies, the USFS, BLM, NPS, USF&WS, and the BIA.
  • Wildland Firefighter series: It requires that the Office of Personnel Management develop a “separate and distinct wildland firefighter occupational series that will more accurately reflect the variety of duties performed by wildland firefighters.” Anyone who is currently in the 401 series would have the option of transferring to the new Wildland Firefighter series.
  • Portal-to-Portal: $25 million would be authorized to begin a pilot program in which firefighters would be paid for “all time the firefighter is away from their official duty station assigned to an emergency incident, in support of an emergency incident, or pre-positioned for emergency response”. Standard overtime rules would apply and employees would be exempt from premium pay limitations. The pilot program would begin “with the 2010 wildfire season”. The Department of Agriculture and Interior would participate in the pilot program which would not exceed three calendar years.
  • Non-Federal resources: The bill requires that during the pilot program there would be reductions in the amount of fire suppression funds expended on non-Federal fire suppression resources.
  • Hazardous Duty Pay would be treated as part of base pay for retirement purposes. And the following is a little vague, but it appears that firefighters would receive hazard duty pay for all the time they are “on the fire line of any wildfire or prescribed fuel treatment burn or fire“, regardless of the control status.
  • Benefits for Seasonal Wildland Firefighters: there are some changes related to the availability of life insurance for seasonal wildland firefighters.
  • Buy Back of Previous Firefighting Time: there are changes related to the buy back of work time and how it relates to retirement.
  • “Sec. 8. Firefighter Liability”: The bill requires that for every fatality to a firefighter or other employee of  the U.S. Forest Service and now the four Dept. of Interior land management agencies due to an entrapment or “burrower”, the department’s Inspector General (IG) shall conduct an investigation. This requirement has been in effect for the U.S. Forest Service, only, since the 2002 Cantwell-Hastings bill, and has resulted in witch hunts, attorney fees, and jail time for firefighters who make mistakes on the fireline. The bill would repeal the provisions of the 2002 bill regarding the IG investigations for USFS fatalities but replaces it with similar requirements that would apply to the USFS and the Dept. of Interior wildland firefighters. The bill does, however, require that IG investigators “have the necessary training, skills, and experience to competently conduct the investigation”, but does not specify what training, experience, and skills are required. It goes on to say  “The investigations and accompanying reports shall be used by all land management agency fire programs to build upon the concept of lessons learned from the fire event. It is not the intent of Congress that the investigations and reports would be used to find fault or place blame for a fatality, but rather to recognize that wildland firefighting is an inherently dangerous occupation and to reduce the number of fatalities from due to wildfire entrapment or burrower.”

I will have to assume that a term that repeatedly shows up in the bill, “burrower”, is a typo, and they really mean “burnover”. An unexpected consequence of spell-check run by an intern?

It is interesting, ironic, and insulting that the portion of the bill that is named “Sec. 8. Firefighter Liability” actually adds to and worsens the liability problems for wildland firefighters, spreading the IG witch hunts further, now into the Department of Interior.

That section is worrisome. I don’t see the need to double down on the ill-conceived requirement of IG investigations on fatalities. Originally thought in 2002 that it would enhance safety for the U.S. Forest Service, it has had the unintended consequence of making it difficult or impossible to glean any lessons learned, since firefighters involved in a burrower burnover or major accident are now lawyering-up and refusing to speak to investigators.

The simple statement in the bill that the intent is not to “find fault or place blame” will not prevent the IG’s law enforcement officers, fresh out of Basic Wildland Firefighter training, who will be conducting investigations, from doing just that–finding fault and placing blame. That is what they do every day in their law enforcement job.

And more firefighters may go to jail for mistakes made in the heat of a wildfire battle.

The intent of the 2002 bill, now law, was to enhance safety, but it did the opposite. Intent means nothing. Intent is crap.

The bill has been referred to four committees:

House Oversight and Government Reform
House Natural Resources
House Agriculture
House Armed Services

The bill has only been introduced in the House and referred to committees. Other than than that no action has been taken. But this is a huge and very positive step, and much credit must be given to Casey Judd of the Federal Wildland Fire Service Association who has been pursuing this legislation for years.

The best case scenario is that the bill will make it out of the four committees unscathed (except for the removal of the Liability section), will be approved by the full House, similar action will occur in the Senate, and then will be signed by the President.  The worst case is that the bill will die in the committees and never receive consideration in the full House. Or there could be something in between, with the text of the bill being changed or watered down.

If you have an interest in this bill you should visit the web sites of the four committees listed above and see if a Representative from your state sits on one or more of them. If so, a letter or a phone call to their offices could make a difference.

Wildfire Today supports this bill, but only if the “Sec. 8. Firefighter Liability” portion is removed, or completely rewritten to eliminate the Inspector General offices from the process and specify in their place a real professional-quality Serious Accident Review Team composed of subject matter experts, not cops.

The cops in the IGs’ offices should not be asked to step far out of their training and experience to make judgments about wildland fire behavior, strategy, tactics, and human factors. Nor should firefighters investigate the fatality of a law enforcement officer. It takes decades to become an expert in the field of wildland fire. It takes longer to become a Type 1 Incident Commander on a fire than it does to become a brain surgeon.

You can follow the progress of the bill HERE.

UPDATE at 9:40 MT, January 26, 2010:

One of the folks who commented, Michael, asked if the bill applied to AD firefighters. I pasted more information about that in a response to his comment below in the “Responses”, but to me this question is still up in the air. There is a possibility that nothing in this bill would apply to AD firefighters OR “militia” employees.

If that is the case, it is a shame for a number of reasons. If it did apply to them, it would have had a very positive effect on the number of people that would have made themselves available for fire and incident management team assignments. Wildfire Today covered HERE some of the problems caused by a lack of participation on incident management teams.

Live Discussion, Thursday night

We will have a live discussion about this legislation Thursday night, featuring Casey Judd, Business Manager of the FWFSA. More information is HERE.