Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sen. Cantwell's Wildland Firefighter Safety Bill reintroduced

In 2007 Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington introduced Senate Bill 1152: Wildland Fire Safety and Transparency Act of 2007. It never made it to the Senate floor and died in the 110th Congress which ended in December. The bill had one co-sponsor--Colorado Senator Ken Salazar, who is now President Obama's new Secretary of Interior.

In this Congressional session Senator Cantwell included the provisions of that bill in the new Senate Bill 22: Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, introduced on January 7, 2009. The language appears to be very similar to the 2007 legislation which did not pass. The section about wildland fire safety is HERE. This huge catch-all bill passed the Senate on January 15, 2009 with a vote of 73 to 21. The next step is to go to the House of Representatives.

It requires the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior to:
...jointly submit annual reports to Congress on the wildland firefighter safety practices of the Secretaries, including training programs and activities for wildland fire suppression, prescribed burning, and wildland fire use.
Senator Cantwell issued a press release on January 15 which included some endorsements from two wildland fire organizations:
Timothy Ingalsbee, Executive Director of Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics, and Ecology said, “A commitment to the best safety practices can reduce some of the risks that wildland firefighters face out on the fireline. Requiring federal fire management agencies to report to Congress on their safety training programs and field activities is an excellent means of improving accountability of the agencies towards giving firefighters the tools and training they need to be safe.”

Casey Judd of the Federal Wildland Fire Service Association said, “We support [Cantwell’s] position that the land management agencies must provide clear information to Congress as to their efforts to improve safety and costs associated with those efforts.”
The International Association of Wildland Fire also endorsed the 2007 bill after polling their members on three pieces of legislation affecting wildland fire. The Yakima Herald wrote an editorial today praising the bill.

Wildfire Today wrote this in December, 2008 about the original bill:
I know what you're thinking, that we need to jump at every chance to make firefighting safer, but having worked for the federal government for 33 years, I know that this legislation would not have done that. It would have just created another series of reports that would have to be completed that would only contain estimates and wild-ass guesses, an additional upward reporting requirement that would keep firefighters from doing their real jobs.

Thanks, Dick.

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