President speaks at the Summit on Fire Prevention and Control

Firefighters on the North Complex
Firefighters on the North Complex, Plumas NF, Sept. 9, 2020. USFS photo by Kari Greer.

Today President Biden made remarks at the Summit on Fire Prevention and Control addressing the nation’s fire service leaders, commemorating Fire Prevention Week, honoring the bravery and heroism of our nation’s Firefighters, and discussing efforts to protect our communities and ensure Firefighter health and safety amidst the ongoing climate crisis. The summit happened during Fire Prevention Week, which began on Sunday. It is the 100th year of the week’s observance.

You can read the full text of his speech and see the video. Below are excerpts.

…And when the impacts of climate change are becoming increasingly evident, we’re calling on you more and more and more.

Extreme heat and prolonged drought have turned wildfire season into wildfire years.  And local firefighters are being called in more to respond to the fires in the wildland urban interface where we’re moving out into the forest areas to develop and it becomes local and federal.

So I want you to know that my administration is doing everything we can to make sure you have the resources you need to do your job as safely and effectively and efficiently as possible.

You know, we invested $350 billion in the American Rescue Plan to help states and local — states and cities keep first responders on the job, including firefighters on the job when — during COVID-19.

And between the American Rescue Plan and my 2023 budget request, we’ve increased federal firefighting grants by $320 million, which includes money to fund 1,200 more local firefighters in the field, hundreds more emergency response vehicles, and thousands — thousands of sets of turnout gear.  A pioneer in research on issues from — including like cancer prevention.

You know, it’s close to my heart.  Cancer is a leading killer of firefighters.  Toxic substances you’ve been exposed to as part of your job are almost certainly — certainly connected to those cancer diagnoses.  And we’re doing — we’re going to do something about it.

We created a special claims unit at the Department of Labor to ensure that they’re processing federal firefighters’ cancer claims quickly.

And I’m urging Congress to send to my desk the Federal Firefighters Fairness Act — let me say it again: the Federal Firefighters Fairness Act — which are going to help federal firefighters and their families assess critical worker compensation resources, including making sure that several forms of cancer are presumed to be caused — presumed to be caused by the firefighter’s job. [Note from Bill: the legislation passed overwhelmingly in the House, but it is bogged down in the Senate.]

And I’m also — I’m also proud that last November, I signed into law Protecting America’s First Responders Act, which extends the benefits under the Public Safety Officers’ Death Benefits Program to the families of firefighters killed in training and made it easier to qualify for permanent disability.

The final point — I’m sorry to go on so long, but I feel passionately about this.  The final point I’d like to make today is that we’re doing everything we can to ease the burden on our firefighters by preventing fires.  This is the 100th — hard to believe — it’s the 100th anniversary of Fire Prevention Week.  And the landmark legislation I’ve signed into law includes historic investments to reduce the risk of fire.

The Bipar- — the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law includes significant forest management, increases community resilience and — to wildfires, and harnesses new technologies to keep communities safe.  It’s also repairing vital infrastructure and — firefighters and other first responders rely on to quickly get to the — to those — those in need.

You know, the Inflation Reduction Act enables us to take unprecedented steps to confront climate crisis, which is going to protect forest health, reduce fire risk, and supercharge our clean energy future.

We’re also maximizing protections for people when fires do break out, through a national initiative to help states, local, and Tribal and territorial governments adapt and adopt the most up-to-date building codes that reflect the threats from the climate — from climate change.

Look, on behalf of my own family and every American, I just want to close by saying again: Thank you, thank you, thank you.  Fires will always be a fact of human life.  And when the worst happens, when those alarms go off, when everything and everybody you love is in danger, there’s no better sight in the world than that firefighter who’s ready to go to work.

So, thank you for being who you are.  Thank you for all the heroes you represent.  You are — you are on the alert and on call in communities all across this country right now as I speak.

So God bless you all.  And may God protect our firefighters.  Thank you for letting me have a chance to talk to you.  I wish our — I literally do wish I were there with you.  Thank you.  And thank you, Lori.

President Biden visits National Interagency Fire Center

In Boise, Idaho

5:08 p.m. PDT Sept. 13, 2021

President Biden at NIFC Sept. 13, 2021
President Biden at NIFC Sept. 13, 2021.

President Biden visited two locations in the West Monday to gather information about the current wildfire situation. His first stop was in Boise where he became the first US President to visit the National Interagency Fire Center since it was created 50 years ago.

During a tour of NIFC he talked with a group of smokejumpers and the President was seen holding a pulaski fire tool. Later, sitting in front of what looked like shelves of parachutes he met with Idaho Governor Brad Little, George Geissler of the National Association of State Foresters, and Grant Beebe, BLM’s Assistant Director for Fire and Aviation. The President said Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley intended to be there but their flight was cancelled due to weather.

President Biden at NIFC Sept. 13, 2021
President Biden at NIFC Sept. 13, 2021.

Mr. Biden praised wildland firefighters for the work they do and reiterated that he is committed to raising their pay. The full text of his public remarks at Boise are below, but here is an excerpt:

The fact is that we’re in a situation where too many memorials are — have been held. And I’ve directed my administration to provide for pay bonuses and incentives to ensure every federal firefighter — because that’s the only authority I have — makes at least $15 an hour. I mean, they should make a hell of a lot — heck of a lot more, but at least $15 an hour. And I’m committing to work with Congress to raise the pay gap for federal wildland firefighters.

And so, you know, believe it or not, there’s massive shortage of fire hoses. I think you all get it. But the idea that we went into this fire season with a shortage of fire hoses — that’s all I heard from my guys back East and in the Midwest: no fire hoses.

Well, fortunately, they thought a long time ago about a thing called the National Defense Act. And what I was able to do — excuse me, the Defense Production Act.

And I was able to restart production of bringing — bringing a lot of people back to work, delivering 21,920 new feet of fire hose in the frontlines, putting a company back to work that was out of business that stopped — stopped manufacturing.

The Associated Press reported Monday that the administration’s use of the Defense Production Act helped an Oklahoma City nonprofit called NewView Oklahoma, which provides the bulk of the U.S. Forest Service’s hose, obtain needed supplies to produce and ship 415 miles of fire hose. If that is correct, two zeros should be added to the 21,920 feet mentioned by the President, making it 2,192,000, which is 415 miles.

President Biden at NIFC Sept. 13, 2021
President Biden at NIFC Sept. 13, 2021. L to R: Idaho Gov. Brad Little, President Biden, Grant Beebe (BLM).

About two hours after Air Force One landed, it departed for Mather Air Force Base near Sacramento. After landing he visited California’s Office of Emergency Services and received a briefing on the wildfires in the state. At one point a map of the Caldor Fire was displayed on a large screen. The plan was for the President to then take an aerial tour of a fire in El Dorado County, the location of the huge 210,000-acre Caldor Fire. And following that, more public remarks about wildland fire.

President Biden receives briefing about the Caldor and other fires
President Biden receives briefing about the Caldor and other fires in California after flying to Mather AFB, Sept. 13, 2021.
President Biden receives briefing about the Caldor and other fires
President Biden receives briefing about the Caldor and other fires in California after flying to Mather AFB, Sept. 13, 2021.

Below is the text of the Presidents public remarks while at NIFC September 13, 2021, provided by the White House:

12:08 P.M. MDT

MR. BEEBE: Mr. President, on behalf of the wildland fire community, I’m proud to welcome you to the National Interagency Fire Center — or NIFC, for short. And we always say NIFC is a place, not an organization.


MR. BEEBE: We’re incredibly proud of it.

Thank you for coming. We’re honored you’re the first President to visit in the 50-year history of the Fire Center, and it’s quite an honor.

I’m Grant Beebe. I’m the Bureau of Land Management’s Assistant Director for Fire and Aviation. And speaking for all the NIFC partners, I’d like to thank you particularly for being here and for your genuine and intense interest in wildland fire management.

I just want to point out: This is a coalition of partners. We have a team here. We have National Park Service, DOD, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, National Association of State Foresters representing the states, FEMA, U.S. Fire Administration, and, of course, U.S. Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service.

I think I got them all; somebody will correct me. Oh, and of course, National Weather Service — one of the original partners here at NIFC. The inception of this was a Forest Service, BLM, NOAA, Fish and Wi- — National Weather Service operation.

So, we’re incredibly proud of it. We’re so proud to have you here.

NIFC was created 50 years ago, and it is the original and durable model for interagency, intergovernmental coordination. Extremely lengthy, intense, and damaging fire seasons like the one we’re experiencing now reinforce the purpose of places like this.

Through the hard work, ingenuity, and persistence of generations of fire professionals, wildfire response across the nation is unified, cooperative, and professional. And I’ll say that we all stand on the shoulders of giants. We inherited this place, and we’re trying to keep it going.

In wildland fire, there’s no one community, agency, Tribal organization that has enough resources to manage all of its fires. Fires don’t know jurisdictional boundaries, and we try to ignore jurisdictional boundaries ourselves. One of our speakers will speak to that particularly.

But the kind of fires we’re experiencing these days — the kind of long-duration, massive, destructive fires we’ve witnessed in recent years in places like California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, and, unfortunately, for Governor Otter [sic] this year, in Idaho — they’re teaching us that we need to maybe change the way we’re doing business.

Continue reading “President Biden visits National Interagency Fire Center”

Washington Governor, “Everything we need to fight forest fires is in dire need across the Western United States”

Multiple governors asked President Biden for aerial assets, firefighters, help in obtaining aviation fuel, and aggressive initial attack

Air resources on the Cedar Creek Fire
Aviation resources on the Cedar Creek Fire in Washington, July 29, 2021. InciWeb.

Friday President Biden hosted his second virtual meeting to discuss wildfire preparedness. This session was with the Governors of three western states, Montana, Washington, and California. The earlier meeting on the topic was June 22, 2021.

The Governors told Mr. Biden that their states need more aviation resources, they need help with obtaining aviation fuel, they need more boots on the ground, and they encourage aggressive initial attack.

“Everything we need to fight forest fires is in dire need across the Western United States,” said Governor Jay Inslee of Washington.

These requests, coming from multiple states in late July with the meat of the fire season still possibly on the horizon, are astonishing.

The President began the meeting with a few remarks before asking the three Governors what the Federal government could do to help.

“Our resources are already being stretched to keep up,” Mr. Biden said.  “We need more help, particularly when we also factor in the additional nationwide challenges of pandemic-related supply chain disruptions and our ongoing efforts to fight COVID. We’ve had a few COVID clusters at our fire camps, which further limits resources.  It’s just one more reason why it’s so darn important that everyone get vaccinated, I might add. Sadly, we’ve also lost two brave firefighters in the last month in a plane crash in Arizona, and five were seriously injured last week battling the Devil’s Creek fire in Montana. It’s — to state the obvious, and you governors know it better than anybody — it is really, really dangerous work, and it takes incredible bravery to do it.  And these heroes deserve to be paid — and paid well — for their work.  That’s why, last month, I was able to announce — and it’s not paying that well, in my view, to be honest with you — immediate action to make all federal firefighters making at least $15 an hour.  I think they deserve more than that. We’re also working with Congress to make sure that our firefighters are paid better permanently.  Permanently.”

Governor Greg Gianforte of Montana was called on first. He spoke briefly, saying that aggressive initial attack was important. “Without that commitment,”Governor Gianforte said,  “we would have had many more large scale fires. And we ask that our federal partners join us in applying this operating principle. Whether it’s a fire that starts on private, state, or federal land — fires are easier to manage when they’re smaller.”

Governor Gianforte then went on to talk about active forest management.

Below are quotes from the other two Governors.

Governor Jay Inslee, Washington

My biggest concern might surprise you because all of the governors share these immediate concerns.  We have a huge need for additional aerial assets, additional dozer bosses so we can get our dozers into fire lines.  We need new tra- — more trained people.  We do have an emerging concern about our fuel supply for our aerial assets.  Everything we need to fight forest fires is in dire need across the Western United States, not just in Washington State.  We’ve had a thousand fires.  It’s burned four times more at this time of year than normal.  We’ve had two and a half times more acreage burn in the last decade than the previous.

Governor Gavin Newsom, California

Look, I just want to briefly — because there’s so many of us — a quick update.  We’re blowing past every record, and not in a good way.  We’re at over 5,700 fires year-to-date.  We suppressed 59 just yesterday with some initial attacks.  Over half a million acres already burned in California. To put in perspective — a record-breaking year.  Last year, we were at 130,000 acres burned.  We’re at 504,000 as I speak to you today.

Here’s the answer to your question.  And forgive me for being so pointed again, respecting your time, but I want to be a little bit more specific. Jay referenced it obliquely.  Please pay attention to this fuels issue.  We had to get our National Guard to get some emergency fuel supplies for our aerial fleet a week ago.  This is a major issue, and it’s not just impacting our aerial suppression strategies on the West Coast.  It’s increasingly, as you may know, impacting commercial aviation.  It is a major issue.

Number two, we just simply need more boots on the ground.  We can’t do without you.  We’ve got 7,400 people — 7,400 already.  We’re not in fire season.  Fire season in California is late September, October, into November.  We’re in July.  We already have 7,400 personnel actively working to suppress fires. Last year, the federal government asked us for over 5,000 mutual aid support that we could not provide.  That gives you a sense of what the federal government wanted from California last year to send to other states.  That should give you a sense of how far behind we are with federal support.

We have four DC-10s, Mr. President.  Four.  Now, DC-10s aren’t the answer to every problem.  They don’t fly over 35 knots.  They have restrictions; there are legendary restrictions.  But the reality is there is four for the country, and we’re competing.  They’re all contracted.  We compete with you.  We compete with other states.  We don’t even have access right now to DC-10s. We lost that 747 — that iconic 747 — that now has been converted to a cargo plane.  You’ve seen that in Australia, not just across the West Coast.  That’s now been grounded by a private contractor.

We are the largest civil aviation fleet for firefighting in the world — California.  We do not come close to having the tools in the air that we need.  We need your support to su- — to dramatically increase the aerial support, in addition to boots on the ground.

But here’s the final thing, and it’s the elephant in the room.  I was with Governor Sisolak two days ago in his state of Nevada.  The reason why is we had a fire that was on federal property.  Fifty-seven percent of the forest property in California is federal, just three percent under California jurisdiction.  Three percent.  Fifty-seven percent under U.S. Forest Service.  U.S. Forest Service is spectacular.  We have deep admiration and respect, but there’s a culture that, too often, is, “Wait and see.”  We can’t afford that any longer.  This was a federal fire.  They waited.  And what we saw is the fire took off because we didn’t put enough initial assets.

Greg was making an oblique point here.  I want to be a little bit more explicit: We need your help to change the culture, in terms of the suppression strategies, in this climate, literally and figuratively, to be more aggressive on these federal fires. That fire bled into Nevada and, obviously, impacted not just our two states, but deeply impacted the redundancy of this concern that comes out every year around jurisdictions and incident command and the imperative that we’re all on the same page, in terms of those initial attack strategies.

“And then a few become firefighters”

President Biden spoke to firefighters today

President Joe Biden speaks to firefighters
President Joe Biden speaks to firefighters, January 27, 2020

From the White House today President Joe Biden made a brief address to the firefighters that were at the International Association of Firefighters convention.

During the four minute speech he said:

All men and women are created equal, and then a few become firefighters. So I owe you. The nation owes you. Especially when we keep asking more of you to deal with raging fires made more dangerous by the climate crisis.

When he was Vice President he spoke at the memorial service July 9, 2013 in Prescott Valley, Arizona, for the 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots who died June 30, 2013 on the Yarnell Hill Fire. From the C-SPAN recording, we made a video clip of his remarks and the slide show that followed featuring the 19 men.  You can see the entire two-hour service at C-SPAN.

Vice President Biden
Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the Granite Mountain Hotshots’ Memorial Service, Prescott Valley, Arizona. July 9, 2013. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

As Vice President Mr. Biden also spoke September 12, 2009 at the memorial service for the two firefighters killed on the Station Fire near Los Angeles, Tedmund Hall and Arnaldo Quinones.

Mr. Biden is a former Chairperson of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus.