Arkansas leads U.S. in total value of federal excess property acquired for rural fire departments

From the Arkansas Forestry Commission:


“The Arkansas Forestry Commission (AFC) Rural Fire Protection (RFP) Program provides specialized equipment, training, and loans to qualifying rural fire departments across Arkansas. Reports from a recent review by the U.S. Forest Service reveal Arkansas as the leader, surpassing all other states in the U.S., for the total value of federal excess property acquired by the program as of 2014.

“The Rural Fire Protection Program was designed to support, train, and equip our strongest partners in wildland fire suppression and community safety – firefighters. We are proud to see equipment going to rural areas that adds water supply, as well as general tools and supplies, decreases response time, and enhances the overall safety of Arkansas communities. We are especially proud to know that Arkansas was a leader in 2014 for acquiring equipment that makes Arkansans safer,” said John Blackburn, RFP Coordinator.

Firefighting equipment acquired by the AFC RFP program includes an array of items such as tanker trucks, pumper trucks, brush trucks, fire boats, generators, and smaller gear and tools like personal protective equipment, helmets, gloves, lights, general shop tools, tires, nozzles, and more. Most of this equipment would be unattainable by rural fire departments because of cost constraints, if this program did not exist.

In March and April of this year, the RFP Program provided firefighting vehicles and/or generators to 29 fire departments, across 22 counties; five interest-free loans, totaling $80,551; and, general firefighting equipment valued at over $67,000 from the RFP Program Warehouse at Greenbrier.

Last year (2014), 107 firefighting vehicles were distributed across the state, all valued at $9,900,661.63; 16 interest-free loans were financed for fire crews to transform Department of Defense equipment into firefighting equipment, totaling $200,219.66; and Wildland Fire Suppression Kits were provided to 34 communities, totaling $102,000 in added wildland fire equipment to statewide crews.

Where does it all come from? Resources made available through the RFP Program is Department of Defense excess property vehicles and equipment that is provided to the U.S. Forest Service through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the two federal agencies. The U.S. Forest Service then authorizes the AFC to oversee the distribution of this equipment through the RFP Program.  RFP personnel screen for and coordinate the pick-up of federal excess property from across the country, within those agency parameters. Fire departments may apply for equipment at anytime through RFP Headquarters in Greenbrier; provided that they are in compliance with Federal Regulations. Equipment is then distributed as evenly and quickly as possible, to meet fire department requests on file.

Beyond equipment and loan opportunities, the RFP Program administers the 8-hour Wildland Firefighter Class, and helps to plan, organize, and host the upcoming annual Arkansas Fire Boat School (May 29-30at DeGray Lake) – training for statewide fire boat crews, and hosts an annual fall fire show and cookout for Arkansas firefighters.”

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

Arkansas firefighter dies in the line of duty

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On Wednesday Assistant Chief J.B. Hutton, Jr., who had been fighting fire in Dermot, Arkansas since the mid-sixties, collapsed at a vegetation fire after bending down to pick up a hose. His coworkers performed CPR but he passed away later at a hospital.

In his later years with the department he primarily operated the engines and shared his experiences with other firefighters.

Our sincere condolences go out to Chief Hutton’s family and coworkers.

Unusual fire activity at Hot Springs National Park

Hot Springs National ParkWildland fire personnel at Hot Springs National Park southwest of Little Rock, Arkansas have had a couple of unusual fire responses over the last week. On Thursday evening a fire broke out in the historical Majestic Hotel in downtown Hot Springs. The hotel was built in 1882 but has been closed since 2006. Fox16 news reports that municipal fire departments were using 500,000 gallons of water an hour on the massive blaze. National Park Service wildland fire engines do not, of course, fight structure fires, but one of their engines has been assigned to the fire since Thursday night, alternating with a U.S. Forest Service wildland engine.

Teresa Horn, spokesperson for the Park, told Wildfire Today Friday afternoon that the engine crews’ assignment on the fire, which is now in the mopup stage, was to patrol the nearby neighborhood looking for burning embers and spot fires — not unlike what the firefighters might do on a wildland fire, except this time it was in a city.

Back in its glory days, the eight-story 400-room hotel was frequented by Babe Ruth. The Pittsburgh Pirates and the Boston Red Sox also stayed at the hotel during their spring training decades ago.

The other unusual fire response was for an actual wildland fire on February 21, but with a twist. From the National Park Service’s Morning Report:


“Ranger Andy Griggs came upon an unoccupied suspicious vehicle on Blacksnake Road inside the park while on patrol on Friday, February 21st. A routine check on the vehicle’s tag indicated that the registered owner had extensive felony arrests on his record and that he was operating it with a suspended driver’s license.

This area of the park has been a popular area for “scrappers” looking for old bottles and other historic artifacts. Several archaeological sites are in this same area.

Chief Ranger John Hughes, Operations Supervisor Jeff Johnson, Ranger Clint Forte and his canine partner, “Saki,” responded. While waiting for additional park units to arrive, a single gunshot was heard from a distance.

Rangers searched the area for approximately an hour, eventually coming upon the owner of the vehicle and another man, who admitted that they had been looking in the area for items that could be taken to a scrap yard.

While the on-scene interviews were being conducted, a third man was found a short distance away from the truck. As he was being interviewed, a plume of smoke was seen coming from the mountainside in an area where he’d come from. The man admitted to starting the wildfire to draw attention to himself, as he felt that he was lost in the woods and hoped that his two companions would see the smoke and come to his aid.

NPS fire crews, Forest Service firefighters and Hot Springs Fire Department personnel responded to fight the fire. At the time, the area was under a burn ban, as the park had not received any measurable rain for quite some time and winds were gusting to approximately 20 mph with the relative humidity at 16%. By the time the fire was completely extinguished, an acre-and-a-half of park land had burned.

The man who started the fire will be charged in federal court once the case has been turned over to the US attorney. The other two men were both taken into custody, as they were both wanted on outstanding warrants from another jurisdiction.

Forte is the case agent for the arson; Jeff Johnson served as the incident commander for the fire.”

Missing fire detection plane found in Arkansas

(UPDATED at 11:23 a.m. CST, February 13, 2014)

Funeral arrangements for Pilot Jake Harrell will be held Saturday, February 15th at the First Assembly of God Church in North Little Rock at 4501 Burrow Road. Services will be held at 10:00 a.m. Visitation will take place at the same location, Friday from 5:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m.

To honor the life of service and memory of Mr. Harrell, a Brayden Harrell Scholarship Fund has been established for Jake and Jaime’s son. This fund is open at all Simmons First National Bank and Metropolitan Bank locations. Individuals should reference the fund by name to contribute.


(UPDATED at 2:34 p.m. CST, February 12, 2014)

The Arkansas Forestry Commission reported that the Civil Air Patrol fixed wing aircraft crew that discovered the missing  plane was part of the 95th Composite Squadron based in Texarkana. The sighting was confirmed by a State Police helicopter. A road, well over a mile long, is being built to the site.

Below is information released by the AFC:

“Recovery Mission Underway for AFC Pilot, Jake Harrell

Mena, Ark. – The plane carrying missing AFC pilot, Jake Harrell, was discovered yesterday at 4:05 p.m. by a Civil Air Patrol single-engine plane. This sighting was confirmed by a State Police helicopter. Moments later, a National Guard helicopter also confirmed the sighting and lowered a Guardsman. This Guardsman confirmed that deceased remains were inside the aircraft. We are 99% sure that this individual is our friend and brother, Jake Harrell – who has been missing since Friday, January 31st.

Ground crews were able to secure the scene late last night; however, a road is still under construction –crews are using dozers and chainsaws to clear the way – to create an actual path to the crash site. Officials are hopeful that this road will be complete and the body recovered by late this evening.

Continue reading “Missing fire detection plane found in Arkansas”

Fire detection aircraft missing in Arkansas

(UPDATE at 5:17 p.m. CST, February 1, 2014)

The fire detection plane with pilot Jake Harrell on board which has been missing in Arkansas since January 31, 2014 has been found. There is still no word on the status of Mr. Harrell. More information is in a new article here. We will also post additional updates at that location.


(UPDATE at 3:30 p.m. CST, February 8, 2014)

The search for the missing pilot and plane continues. Today, visibility has kept the air fleet on the ground, but as of 3:30 p.m. CST two large ground crews have been out for several hours.


(UPDATED at 12:21 p.m. CST, February 4, 2014)

Incident Management Team plans strategy
The Incident Management organization in Mena continues to pour over maps of the area, collaborating on strategy for a possible weather break Tuesday afternoon. AFC photo.

The searchers looking for the Arkansas fire detection plane and pilot Jake Harrel that disappeared January 31 are again battling weather that for a while restricted their activities, but a break in the weather at noon allowed ground crews to deploy to their designated routes.

The Civil Air Patrol covered 1,206 square miles by air yesterday, in addition to the other areas covered by helicopters and Arkansas Forestry Commission planes.


(UPDATED at 5:57 p.m. CST, February 3, 2014)

Searchers are still combing through and over the forests of Arkansas looking for the fire detection plane and pilot Jake Harrel that disappeared January 31. After low visibility kept most aircraft out of the air on Sunday, better weather today allowed nine Civil Air Patrol airplanes and several helicopters from the state police and National Guard to participate in the search in addition to ground crews. Recent ice storms blocked roads with downed trees and limbs, slowing the progress on the ground. Some of the roads are being reopened with chain saws and dozers.

Dozers used for reopening roads.
Dozers used for reopening roads.


(UPDATED at 12:38 p.m. CST, February 2, 2014)

The search continues for the missing airplane and pilot who was on a fire detection mission in Arkansas when he failed to check in as scheduled after his last radio contact at 1:11 p.m. CST, January 31, 2014.

The aircraft had an Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) on board and searchers have been looking for signals from the device but have found nothing yet. ELTs are no panacea, in fact older versions activate properly in only 12% of crashes according to NOAA. Newer models with the Cospas-Sarsat system have a higher accident survivability rate,

Below is information released this morning from the Arkansas Forestry Commission about the missing plane:

Teams Continuously Search for Missing AFC Pilot, Jake Harrell

Mena, Arkansas — Ground crews searched all night along routes below the supposed flight path of missing AFC pilot, Jake Harrel. Last night, more than 200 miles were traveled along back roads and rugged trails, searching for some sign of the pilot or plane.

Jake Harrell
Jake Harrell

Ground squads are focusing today on the north side of the supposed flight route with steep slopes, near Oden. Four wheelers will be used to access challenging sections of terrain. This concentrated efforst is based on information from Jakes cell provider about what is thought to be his last transmission before he went missing on Friday. The Incident Command Post in Mena is carefully monitoring the weaher situation as ice and rain may move through the area. Search crews will not stop; however aerial search attempts may not be possible today.

“We are doing our best to speculate about which direction Jake may have taken the plane on Friday, if his visibility was becoming difficult. We are hopeful that by narrowing search efforts to this area, that we may have a good chance of locating him,” said Billy Black, AFC Investigator.”

ICP for Jake Harrell search
Incident Command Post. AFC photo.


(UPDATED at 7:30 p.m. CST, February 1, 2014)

Missing AFC aircraft
The missing Arkansas Forestry Commission pilot was flying a small plane similar to this.

Search crews are still looking for the missing fire detection aircraft and pilot in Arkansas. At about 6:50 p.m. CST the Arkansas Forestry Commission issued this update:

Search efforts continue through the night for missing AFC Pilot, Jake Harrell. “We are going to be here until we find Jake. Tonight and tomorrow’s efforts are already planned and we are aggressively covering as much ground as quickly and safely as possible,” said State Forester, Joe Fox.

More information.


(Originally published at 11:15 CST, February 1, 2014)

MALVERN, Ark. (ARKANSAS FORESTRY COMMISSION) – An Arkansas Forestry Commission pilot has failed to check in with AFC Central Dispatch in Malvern.

AFC pilot, Jake Harrell, failed to check-in with AFC Central Dispatch (in Malvern) yesterday after 1:11 p.m. Jake was flying a regularly scheduled fire detection flight from Malvern to points throughout west Arkansas. His last known location was Oden, with the supposed intent of traveling toward Wickes.

Jake is 34 years old and is a seasoned pilot with the AFC, since 2005. He had flown many times on the very route that he traveled yesterday. He currently flies as a part-time pilot with the AFC and works full time with the North Little Rock Police Department. He also serves with the Arkansas Air National Guard 188th Fighter Wing.

Ground crews include two and three-person teams searching gridded locations in Montgomery and Polk Counties – close in proximity to a possible route he may have been flying between check points in Oden and Wickes. Crews are searching by foot and four-wheelers. Chainsaw crews and dozers are on standby. Two Civil Air Patrol planes and a National Guard helicopter are assisting with search efforts from the air. Visibility is difficult from the air at this time; ground crews have better visibility until conditions clear.

The Incident Command structure in Mena is a Unified Command team with the following partners involved: Arkansas Forestry Commission, Polk and Montgomery County Law Enforcement, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, Arkansas National Guard, U.S. Forest Service, Arkansas State Police, Emergency Management crews from Polk and Montgomery County, local volunteer fire departments, and the Civil Air Patrol.

More lightning fires in Arkansas

More than 1,000 wildfires burned this year in Arkansas, according to KAIT8 news, and many were human-caused. But lightning’s rising on the list of causes for fires in the state. State Forester Joe Fox said that 15 percent of Arkansas fires are usually caused by lightning — and some years it’s under 3 percent. But according to Fox, lightning has caused more than half the fires in the last two months.

The Arkansas Forestry Commission yesterday activated military Blackhawks for fire suppression in the state.