House of Representatives Passes Bill for Firefighter Safety, Technology

House of Representatives Passes Bill for Firefighter Safety, Technology

Tools for firefighter safety provided for by the bill include safety alerts for managers, a database to track on-the-job injuries and wildland firefighter deaths, and GPS locators for firefighting crews.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Wildfire Management Technology Advancement Act on Feb. 26. The bill, which aims to increase safety for firefighters working to stop wildfires, now heads to President Donald J. Trump's desk to be signed into law.

If signed, the bill will require that wildfire crews be given a GPS locator and mandate that drones be used to scout out and map wildfires in real time. According to the bill's sponsor, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., the use of drones and GPS could have helped in the recent Mendocino Complex fire in California.

"In one case, no one knew where six entrapped firefighters were," she said. "The result was all six suffered injuries because it took quite a while to locate and rescue them."

Cantwell said she hopes the legislation provides firefighters with tools to stay safe while increasing their effectiveness and the health of the public.

Tools for firefighter safety provided for by the bill include safety alerts for managers, a database to track on-the-job injuries and wildland firefighter deaths, and GPS locators for firefighting crews. Firefighters also will be equipped with real-time maps of a wildfire, and three-month wildfire forecasts will become much more localized, according to Cantwell's office.

As for improvements to public health and safety, the bill provides for a meteorologist assigned to every large wildfire specifically to give the public smoke forecasts. It will also grant the U.S. Forest Service access to a database that will decrease the amount of time needed to install erosion measures after wildfires, in order to prevent mudslides.

"[This legislation] will provide these new technology and training tools to empower the Forest Service to help our communities and our firefighters. . . . Real-time fire mapping, more drone technology to give us real-time information about the fires, using NASA satellite information to help us plan post-fires, and giving us more smoke forecasting information to better help our communities and deal with those who are impacted by heavy smoke," Cantwell said. "These provisions will help firefighters and communities, and we need to do everything we can, as we see fire seasons extending and having more catastrophic events. We need to give communities and firefighters every tool possible."

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