Senators grill fire officials about COVID-19 and the safety of wildland firefighters

Topics included testing and the availability of personal protective equipment, as well as the availability of air tankers

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing, June 9, 2020
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing, June 9, 2020, about about wildfire management in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At a hearing today before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources two of the four witnesses and several of the Senators appeared remotely. With the announced topic being wildfire management in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, three Senators expressed strong opinions about testing and personal protective equipment (PPE) being available for all firefighters.

In his prepared testimony, Norm McDonald Director of Fire and Aviation for the Alaska Division of Forestry, explained that all fire personnel upon arrival in Alaska are being asked to take a COVID-19 test.

Norm McDonald, Dir Fire and Aviation
Norm McDonald, Dir Fire and Aviation, Alaska Div of Forestry

“For federal employees,” he said,”this is voluntary, but an expectation memo is attached to each resource order outlining the expectation along with other mitigation measures that are being employed. Testing occurs at either of the two major jetports upon arrival, and results are available in 24-48 hours. The incoming staff are asked to quarantine at their billets until test results are provided. Provisions have been made for urgent demands for resources on the fireline, a test still occurs, but staff deploy as needed. Any positive results will be notified and subsequently isolated and cared for while contact tracing occurs.”

The policy in Alaska set the stage for discussions about testing being available for all federal firefighters.

John Phipps and Amanda Kaster
L to R- John Phipps, Forest Service Deputy Chief State and Private Forestry, and, Amanda Kaster, Acting Dep Asst Secretary Land and Minerals

Amanda Kaster, the Department of the Interior’s Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land & Minerals, said all DOI firefighters are not being tested, adding, “[F]irefighter safety is truly paramount for the Department, and as this fire season continues we are going to continue to explore ways to better protect our firefighters.” (at 1:05:30 in the video recording of the hearing)

Ranking Member Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia made it clear that he and the “rest of the committee” felt that testing was necessary for all firefighters. “We want mandatory testing going into the fire season.”

Senator Manchin brought this up again in a discussion with the other Senators at 1:08:43, saying, “Testing for firefighters is imperative.”

“Madam Chair, I want to begin by saying I think you and Senator Manchin are making a lot of extraordinarily important points,” said Oregon Senator Ron Wyden (at 1:13:00). “I’ve been listening to what the agencies are saying in Washington, D.C. this morning, not the folks out in the field,” referring to witnesses from the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of the Interior. “They’re talking about ‘exploring’ these critical issues, they’re using the words ‘considering’, ‘consulting’. I don’t see any urgency needed to respond in a uniform, practical way to what you and Senator Manchin are talking about. So I really appreciate you trying to point out that fire season is happening NOW [hitting the table], COVID is happening NOW [hitting the table again], and the idea that we’re going to hear about a lot of ‘considering’ and ‘consulting’ just is not going to protect our courageous firefighters nor is it going to protect folks in the rural West.”

Since Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen and Director of Fire and Aviation Shawna Legarza did not walk down the street to attend the hearing, they sent John Phipps, the FS Deputy Chief for State and Private Forestry in their place. When asked if firefighters would be covered by Workmen’s Compensation after contracting COVID-19 on the job, he said it will be “considered on a case by case basis by the Department of Labor for coverage.”

Senator Manchin responded, “We’re going to do what we can in this committee to make sure we get clarity to that so these people do not have to worry, they’re not struggling, and their families do not have to worry. You were told by DOL. Maybe we can get to DOL. We’ll get them here.”

Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico said some of his individual constituents, firefighters, have told him that they are not being provided with sufficient PPE.

He asked, “Are fire personnel currently limited in the number of masks, for example, that they are allowed per week?”

“I’d say no,” responded Mr. Phipps. “We have in our interagency checklist for mobilization for ordering or receiving adequate PPE is one of the requirements. And so, if they don’t have adequate equipment, personal protective equipment, they’re not going to be on the fire.”

“OK. So, I will follow up,” said Senator Heinrich. “I am definitely hearing that from some constituents. Madam Chair, I think I am out of time, but I want to say how much I appreciate this hearing because I think we have our work cut out for us.”

“Yes, I think we do,” Chairman Murkowski agreed.

Aerial Firefighting

(Opinions follow)

Shifting gears, the topic of fire aviation came up in the hearing.
At 2:05:00 into the testimony, the Forest Service’s strategy for keeping the air tanker fleet at a minuscule level was on display — again.

John Phipps U.S. Forest Service
John Phipps, Forest Service, Deputy Chief, State and Private Forestry.

How would the average person or average Senator interpret what John Phipps, Forest Service Deputy Chief for State and Private Forestry, said in response to a question from the Senator from Nevada?

Senator Catherine Masto: (partly unintelligible) …What do you anticipate as the need from the federal partners to increase air tanker support? I know how crucial that is.

John Phipps: We have up to 35 large air tankers. I think it’s important to understand that we have access to in the interagency environment for example the Department of the Interior has 100 Single Engine Aircraft, air tankers, under contract and depending on the situation and the need we have access to that and we are well under way for our planning and preparedness for the upcoming western fire season.

Senator Catherine Masto: Is there anything we can do at the federal level to assist you in that?

John Phipps: Not at this time.

Senator Catherine Masto: That’s good to hear. Thank you.

In other words, there is nothing to see here. Move along.

The average person or average Senator might think, “Holy crap, there are 135 air tankers ready to fight fires today? How could anyone ask for more? This is great!”

And that is why the number of large air tankers on exclusive use contracts has been stuck at 9 to 21 for the last 15 years. The Forest Service says they have three times the air tankers they actually have, they do not need more, Congress accepts their testimony without question, then moves on to another topic.

The truth is far different. And Mr. Phipps knew it. At best he was intentionally misleading the United States Senators. Some may call it lying. Saying “up to 35” could mean anywhere from zero to 35, and is meaningless. The Senators should have called him on this.

Today there are 13 large air tankers on exclusive use contracts. If protests that have been filed do not change anything, after the GAO makes their ruling due by July 15, 2020 there could be 5 more, to bring the total to 18.

A study completed for the Forest Service in 1996 (on page 61) recommended there be 41 large turbine-powered air tankers with a capacity of 3,000 to 5,000 gallons, essentially standards that are now the “next-generation” air tankers used today:

"Twenty P-3A, aircraft, ten C-130B aircraft, and 11 C-130E aircraft. This would provide for a [turbine-powered] fleet that is essentially 75% 3,000 gallon capacity and 25% 5,000 gallon capacity."

Single engine air tankers have their place in the firefighter’s tool box, but 700 to 800 gallons per load is far different from the 3,000 to 19,000 gallons carried by large and very large air tankers.

There are additional large air tankers on Call When Needed contracts signed in December with six companies for a total of 35 aircraft. The number “35” is misleading because most if not all of the 13 to 18 large air tankers on exclusive use (EU) contracts also have CWN contracts, meaning they would be removed from the CWN list. So there might only be 17 to 22 on CWN.  And that assumes all could pass the inspections required by this month. In December some of them did not exist as a complete air tanker.

CWN aircraft may or may not be immediately ready during the fire season, with mechanics and crew members available to suddenly drop what they were doing and start flying fires. In 2017 the average daily rate for large federal CWN air tankers was 54 percent higher than aircraft on exclusive use contracts. But CWN costs are charged to the virtually unlimited fire suppression accounts, so the Forest Service does not care about using taxpayer’s dollars in that manner. And they are not held accountable.

I did not see in the hearing any mention of the delays in releasing the Aerial Firefighting Use and Effectiveness Study that has been going on for eight years, but maybe I missed it. (Update: it was not discussed.) Chief Christiansen has been testifying for the last two years before this committee saying it would be released “soon”. When pressed in February by Colorado Senator Cory Gardner, who last year made his opinion about the delay very clear, she said it would be released “this Spring”. Senator Gardner said, “Before June?” She said, “Yes”. I did not see the Senator in today’s hearing. (Update: Senator Gardner was not at the hearing.)

Congress to hold hearing on “Wildfire Management in the Midst of COVID-19”

Save the date: June 9, 2020 at 10 am EDT, 7 am PDT

senate committee hearing fire four-person panel
On June 13, 2019 a four-person panel provided testimony before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. L-R: Shawna Legarza, Director, Fire Aviation and Management, Forest Service; Jeff Rupert, Office of Wildland Fire, Department of the Interior; Chris Maisch, Alaska State Forester & National Association of State Foresters; and Wade Crowfoot, Secretary, California Natural Resources Agency. Screenshot from the Committee video.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. EDT June 9, 2020 on “Wildfire Management in the Midst of COVID-19”. It will be webcast live on the committee’s website, and an archived video will be available shortly after the conclusion. Written witness testimony will be available on the website at the start of the hearing.

This could be very interesting, depending on what questions the Senators ask and if they follow up when the witnesses give vague or evasive answers. In 2019 Shawna Legarza, the Forest Service Fire and Aviation Director, was one of four on a panel. If she appears this year it will be with only 21 days remaining before her announced retirement date.

Shawna Legarza, Fire and Aviation Director, Forest Service
Shawna Legarza, Fire and Aviation Director, Forest Service, June 13, 2019 at a hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Screenshot from the Committee video.

This committee regularly holds hearings about the activities of the land management agencies, but also has hearings specifically about wildland fire topics. Senators sometimes press the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior agencies on topics such as the number of air tankers on contract, using technology to track fires and resources, transferring management of the Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers from the FS to the Department of Labor, is the FS asking for enough funding to accomplish their goals, sexual harassment, and the outlook for the coming fire season.

Obviously this year the issue of fighting fire during the pandemic will come up. Another possible topic is accountability and lack of transparency for how decisions are made about contracting for firefighting aircraft and how taxpayers’ dollars are being used. Are they being spent wisely? When will they release the Aerial Firefighting Use and Effectiveness Study that has been going on for eight years? Launched in 2012 at a cost of about $1.3 million annually, the study is supposed to quantify the effectiveness of the various types of fixed and rotor wing aircraft used on wildfires. In FY 2017 for example, the most recent year with exact numbers available, the agency spent over half a billion dollars on fire aviation; $507,000,000. If ever completed the AFUE study could make it possible to answer the question: “What are the best mixes of aircraft to do any fire suppression job?” Data collected from this study and other sources would be used to inform decisions about the composition of the interagency wildland firefighting aircraft fleet — to use the best, most efficient, and effective tools for the job.

In hearings before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in 2018 and 2019 the Forest Service told the Senators the results of the study would be released “soon”. In another hearing in February, 2020 Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen again said it would be released “soon”. When pressed by Colorado Senator Sen. Cory Gardner, who last year made his opinion about the delay very clear, she said it would be released “this Spring”. Senator Gardner said, “Before June?”. She said, “Yes”.  A clip from that exchange is below.

Link to the entire hearing

(Members of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee)

(The list of members of the committee was replaced with the more current link above)

Senate holds hearing about powerline-caused wildfires

PG&E CEO says preemptive power shut offs during periods of high fire danger in California are likely to continue “for some period of time”

Witnesses at the Congressional hearing December 19, 2019
Witnesses at the Congressional hearing December 19, 2019. L to R: Bill Johnson (PG&E), Michael Wara (Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment), Scott Corwin (Northwest Public Power Association), Carl Imhoff (USFS Pacific Northwest National Laboratory), Dr. B. Don Russell (Texas A&M)

Today the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a hearing to examine the impacts of wildfire on electric grid reliability, efforts to mitigate wildfire risk, and how to increase grid resiliency.

The five witnesses at the hearing were Bill Johnson (PG&E), Michael Wara (Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment), Scott Corwin (Northwest Public Power Association), Carl Imhoff (USFS Pacific Northwest National Laboratory), and Dr. B. Don Russell (Texas A&M).

The Senators and witnesses talked about Pacific Gas and Electric’s bankruptcy following the fires caused by their system, the future of preemptive power shutoffs during periods of high fire danger, and two new advances in technology that could help prevent some fires that are caused by power lines.

Dr. B. Don Russel, a professor at Texas A & M, told the committee about distribution fault anticipation technology developed at his university that uses intelligent algorithms to continually monitor electric circuits to detect the very earliest stages of failing devices and missed operations. The concept is simple, he said.  You find and fix it before the catastrophic failure causes a fire or an outage.  Dr.  Russel repeatedly advocated the adoption of this system.

San Diego Gas and Electric’s research found that it takes 1.37 seconds for a broken conductor to hit the ground, for example, if a tree falls into the line or a vehicle hits a power pole. When the line contacts the ground sparks can ignite vegetation. The system is designed to detect a break and shut off the power before the clock hits 1.37 seconds — hopefully, avoiding what could become a dangerous wildfire.

Hearing Senate power line fires
Screenshot from the video.

Bill Johnson became the CEO of Pacific Gas & Electric about 8 months ago about the time the company began going into bankruptcy. Senator Murkowski asked him how much longer residents in California would continue to be affected by the electricity being shut off during periods of high fire danger.

Mr. Johnson said San Diego Gas & Electric is still doing Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) in Southern California during periods of high fire danger 12 years after their power lines started multiple large fires in 2007, but the shutoffs are “surgical” and very localized. He said “[I]n Northern California it would take us probably five years to get to the point where we can largely eliminate this tool… So I think over the next couple of years you’ll see a progression of shorter, fewer PSPS events. But the climate change and the weather change is dramatic enough that I don’t think we will see the end of it for some period of time.”

Dr. Michael Wara discussed the effect of PSPS on residents:

The use of PSPSs has both prevented wildfire and caused widespread disruption to families and businesses, especially in Northern California. PSPS events, though they do dramatically improve safety, are likely very costly to the health of the economy, especially in smaller communities. My best estimate, using the Interruption Cost Estimator tool developed by Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory indicates that PG&E PSPS events in 2019 cost customers more than $10 billion – that’s 0.3% of gross state product or 10% of overall economic growth this year in California.

In October we wrote about the effects of PSPSs on California residents.

Below is an excerpt from Mr. Johnson’s prepared testimony about PG&E:

PG&E is deeply sorry for the role our equipment had in those fires and the losses that occurred because of them. And we’re taking action to prevent it ever happening again.

And today we’re taking that work a step further by increasing vegetation management in the high risk areas, incorporating analytical and predictive capabilities, and expanding the scope and intrusiveness of our inspection processes.

We deployed 600 weather stations and 130 high resolution cameras across our  service areas to bolster situational awareness and emergency response. We’re using satellite data and modeling techniques to predict wildfire spread and behavior. And we’re hardening our system in those areas where the fire threat is highest by installing stronger and more resilient poles and covered line, as well as undergrounding.

And this year we took the unprecedented step of intentionally turning off the power for safety during a string of severe wind events where we saw up to 100  mile an hour winds on shore in Northern California. And this decision affected millions of our customers,  caused them disruption and hardship even if it succeeded in protecting human life.

We are operating on all fronts to make the system safer and more resilient.

You can watch a video of the entire hearing. It is one hour and 35 minutes, not counting the wait for it to begin at 17:57.

Senate Committee hearing on outlook for the 2019 wildfire season

Very pointed questions were asked about the Forest Service adopting technology to track locations of firefighters and fires

Senate committee hearing outlook for wildland fire 2019
When the Senate Energy Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing began on June 13, 2019 to “Examine the Outlook for Wildland Fire and Management Programs for 2019” seven Senators were present. They came and went throughout the one hour and 54-minute hearing, with a total of 11 making statements or asking questions.

In what has become an annual routine in recent years, today the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a “Hearing to Examine the Outlook for Wildland Fire and Management Programs for 2019”.

The contingent from the land management agencies providing testimony were:

  • Shawna Legarza, Director, Fire Aviation and Management, Forest Service
  • Jeff Rupert, Office of Wildland Fire, Department of the Interior
  • Wade Crowfoot, Secretary, California Natural Resources Agency
  • Chris Maisch, Alaska State Forester & National Association of State Foresters
senate committee hearing fire four-person panel
The four-person panel providing testimony.

One topic that came up was the Trump Administration’s plans to transfer the management of  25 Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers from the U.S. Forest Service to the Department of Labor (DOL) and permanently close 9 of those 25 centers. Since then, the decision to close one of the Centers in Montana was reversed. Now we have the back story on how that one Center was taken off the chopping block.

Senator Steve Daines of Montana Job Corps
Senator Steve Daines of Montana discussed the transfer and closing of Job Corps Centers.

During today’s hearing Senator Steve Daines of Montana said it he called President Trump and convinced him to keep the Anaconda Center in his state open. The Senator said after talking with the President he confirmed it with Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.

Mr. Rupert said the DOI “plans to deploy nearly 4,500 firefighting personnel, 500 tribal firefighters, 151 smokejumpers, 17 interagency hotshot crews and 4 Tribal hotshot crews.”

Mrs. Legarza did not specify how many firefighting resources the Forest Service will have this year, but we asked agency Spokesperson Debra Schweizer who told us they will have “more than 10,000 firefighters and 900 engines” plus 324 smokejumpers and 87 hotshot crews. The FS has exclusive use contracts with 18 large air tankers and one single engine air tanker (SEAT). On call when needed contracts at substantially higher hourly and daily rates, they can access, if available:

  • 14 large air tankers
  • 4 scooping CL-415 air tankers
  • 8 military C-130 aircraft outfitted with temporary Modular Airborne FireFighting Systems (MAFFS)
  • An unknown number of old CV580 air tankers from Canada
  • 9 scoopers from Canada

The Forest Service also has on exclusive use contracts this year, 20 air tactical supervision fixed-wing aircraft, 6 smokejumper aircraft, and 15 lead/aerial supervision module aircraft. Plus, 6 agency-owned smokejumper aircraft, 1 air tactical supervision fixed-wing aircraft, and two infrared fixed-wing aircraft.

For a couple of years the Energy and Natural Resources Committee has been pushing the federal land management agencies to work toward what I call the Holy Grail of Wildland Firefighter Safety, knowing in real time the locations of firefighters and the fire. Fourteen months after it was first introduced, the Wildfire Management Technology Advancement Act became law after it was included in an omnibus bill, the Natural Resources Management Act. The Senate passed it with a vote of 92 to 8, and the House followed suit, 363 to 62. On March 12, 2019 it was signed by the President.

Now that the legislation has become Public Law 116-9 the federal land management agencies are directed to adopt or build on a number of new technologies that can enhance the safety of firefighters and aid in the suppression of wildfires. Some of the requirements have deadlines:

    • Establish a research, development, and testing program, or expand an applicable existing program, to assess unmanned aircraft system technologies, including optionally piloted aircraft, across the full range of wildland fire management operations. (180 days, due by September 8, 2019)
    • Develop consistent protocols and plans for the use on wildland fires of unmanned aircraft system technologies, including for the development of real-time maps of the location of wildland fires. (within 180 days, March 12, 2020)
    • Develop and operate a tracking system to remotely locate the positions of fire resources, including, at a minimum, any fire resources assigned to Federal Type 1 wildland fire incident management teams. (within 2 years, March 12, 2021)  According to a press release by Senator Maria Cantwell, by the 2021 fire season, all firefighting crews – regardless of whether they are federal, state, or local – working on large wildfires will be equipped with GPS locators.
Senator Maria Cantwell location tracking firefighters
Senator Maria Cantwell asked when the Forest Service would implement location tracking technology.

During today’s hearing, Senator Maria Cantwell asked Shawna Legarza, Fire Director for the U.S. Forest Service, “What are you doing to implement the tools that we gave you?

Below are partial transcripts of the back and forth that begins at about 1:21:30 in the video which can be viewed at the Committee’s website:

Senator Cantwell: We are seeing other people implementing these GPS systems as it relates to resources and fire engines, and moving forward I know that BLM has now agreed to doing this immediately. What can we do to get the Forest Service to immediately implement that GPS system so we know the location of resources and assets and hopefully onto our firefighters as well so we can protect them this season.

Mrs. Legarza: Thank you Senator. So what we are doing in the Forest Service, actually interagency at the National Interagency Fire Center in just a couple of weeks we are having a three-day industry technology day to find out what is out there, and then together we’re gonna figure out what do we need interagency, not just the Forest Service, but with the BLM and the states, and then put together a request for information and RFP for proposal to find out how much that costs so that we can all talk together and be integrated.

Senator Cantwell: …With the fire season upon us, the fact that the BLM has implemented this right away, why can’t we get the Forest Service to do the same?

Mrs. Legarza:  We’re putting (inaudible) together to do that.

Senator Cantwell:   …I get that there are a lot of new tools. I guess what we are saying, pick the most urgent one that you can implement today. Do not study this for an entire year.

Shawna Legarza, Fire and Aviation Director, Forest Service
Shawna Legarza, Fire and Aviation Director, Forest Service

In 2014 when Mrs. Lagarza was the USFS Fire Director for the agency’s Region 5 (California), she was interviewed by CBS News and talked in positive terms about tracking the locations of firefighters and the fire. Unfortunately the video is no longer available.


Our Take:

The fact that the Forest Service needs a three-day meeting “to find out what is out there”, makes it appears that the agency collectively knows practically nothing about these technologies and is basically starting from scratch in order to appear to be trying to meet the mandate in the recently passed law.

At least four to five years ago one of the National Incident Management Organization (NIMO) Incident Commanders was tasked with addressing the issue of tracking the locations of fires and firefighters.

On January 31, 2017 I asked Forest Service Spokesperson Jennifer Jones about the status of the effort to adopt these technologies. I was not getting very detailed answers, so finally I asked, “Is this a low priority effort that has one person working on it as a collateral duty when he or she has time in the winter, or is it an all-out effort that is full time for 5 people?”

She responded: “This was proposed and accepted as a formal U.S. Forest Service Technology Development Program project. It has been funded for the last two years and we expect that it will continue to be funded until it is completed. The project is being led by a U.S. Forest Service Technology and Development Program staff member with the participation of additional subject matter experts as needed.”

So, to schedule a meeting to “find out what’s out there”, sounds like little to nothing has been accomplished during the last four years in the funded “formal U.S. Forest Service Technology Development Program project”.

Taxpayer funds have supposedly been spent for at least four years on adopting this location technology, but results of their study are hard to identify.

The Forest Service appears to be using their often-implemented and very effective slow-walk tactic. Study an issue for years and years and in some cases don’t even release the findings —  like the Rand air tanker study, incorporating seven Coast Guard HC-130Hs into their air tanker fleet, and the Aerial Firefighting Use and Effectiveness (AFUE) study that began in 2012.

Jon Stewart scolds Congress regarding reauthorizing the 9/11 victims compensation fund

Blasts ’empty chair’ lawmakers

Senate Judiciary Committee Jon Stewart
While testifying during a June 11, 2019 hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jon Stewart (at lower left) turns away for a second from the empty Senators’ chairs to look at the first responders in the audience. Screen grab from CNN video. Click to enlarge.

Since at least 2010 Jon Stewart, formerly of the Daily Show, has been striving to get Congress to provide adequate health care for the firefighters and other first responders that fought the fires and assisted victims after the World Trade Center towers were attacked by terrorists in 2001.

This morning he appeared again before the Senate Judiciary Committee to encourage Senators to approve the bill that will be voted on tomorrow, June 12. Every few years the legislation that funds health care for the 9/11 first responders suffering from cancer and other diseases expires, and the fight to do the right thing must be reintroduced and refought. The bill now pending will make health care for the 9/11 first responders permanent.

You will see in the video how strongly Mr. Stewart feels about this issue.

Here are some quotes from Mr. Stewart’s testimony:

This hearing should be flipped. These men and women should be up on that stage and Congress should be down here answering their questions as to why this is so damn hard and takes so damn long.

Setting aside, no American should face financial ruin because of a health issue.

Certainly 9/11 first responders shouldn’t have to decide whether to live or to have a place to live.

They responded in 5 seconds. They did their job with courage, grace, tenacity, humility — 18 years later, DO YOURS.

 

Below is an excerpt from an article at The Sun, published September 11, 2018:

In the following days [after the attacks on 9/11], people from every state – and almost every single district – of America helped at Ground Zero – rescuing casualties, digging up bodies, cleaning up and rebuilding.

Now they are paying a high price for their selflessness – while most of the world remains oblivious to their suffering.

Over 2,000 first responders – anyone who helped out at Ground Zero, including building workers, electricians, doctors and paramedics – have died from illnesses caused by breathing in the toxic fumes that engulfed the site in the weeks after the terror attack.

As thousands more currently battle 9/11-related diseases such as cancer or severe respiratory disease, shockingly, it’s predicted that by the end of this year the number of first responders who have died since the tragic event will overtake the number who died on the day…

All articles on Wildfire Today that mention Jon Stewart and the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund.

Forest Service Chief testifies about proposed budget for next fiscal year

Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen budget FY2020
Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen testified about the White House’s proposed budget for FY2020 on May 15, 2019.

A Senate Appropriations Committee Subcommittee, the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, held a hearing May 15 to receive testimony from Vicki Christiansen, Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, about the administration’s proposed budget for next year, FY2020. In response to some of the questions related to recommended cuts by the White House, the Chief politely mentioned the fact that the administration ordered an overall five percent cut in the Forest Service budget.

One of the first topics of discussion were the large reductions in two programs. This fiscal year the Volunteer Fire Assistance program was funded at $11 million and State Fire Assistance program at $66 million. These programs provide assistance to states and local fire departments for wildland fire prevention, detection, and suppression. In Fiscal Year 2019, the programs were funded at $17 million and $81 million respectively.

I made two of the three clips below to highlight the sections when the committee was discussing fire-related issues. In the first one Chief Christiansen is asked to defend the cuts in the Volunteer Fire Assistance and State Fire Assistance programs.

In the next Clip Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico asks Forest Service Chief Christiansen if the proposed funding amounts for next fiscal year can help restore forests and reduce the need for fire suppression.

Senator Steve Daines of Montana asks Chief of the Forest Service Vicki Christiansen if more fuel breaks should be constructed along roads.

In an April 9 hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee other issues were discussed about funding for next fiscal year.