Cantwell Bill to Bring State-of-the-Art Technology to Firefighters Across the Country Passes Senate

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the former ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, secured Senate passage of the Wildfire Management Technology Advancement Act of 2017, which would bring firefighting agencies across the country into the 21st century. 

The bill would increase firefighter safety by requiring the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior to begin providing GPS locations for crews on wildfires and to begin using Unmanned Aircraft Systems to scout out and map wildfires in real time. Wildfire Today refers to the simultaneous use of mapping aircraft and GPS locators as the ‘Holy Grail’ of firefighter safety. 

“Washington has taken it on the chin time and time again from fires, and we know why it is so important to give firefighters and agencies the best possible tools to locate the fire and locate their firefighters,” Cantwell said. “We need more hasty response to putting out fires, and having GPS and tracking systems are going to help us do that.” 

In addition to the use of advanced technology, like drones, the bill also requires that trends in firefighter injuries be analyzed in order to target training to prevent future injuries and fatalities. 

Communities and businesses would also benefit from provisions in the Wildfire Management Technology Advancement Act of 2017. This bill directs the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior to work with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and the Department of Energy’s National Labs, such as the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, to better predict the areas that will most likely experience large wildfires during fire season. These forecasts will allow for agencies to more strategically stage resources before fires occur. In addition, the legislation requires smoke forecasters be assigned to all large wildfires to provide the most accurate information to those impacted. 

Finally, the bill includes provisions to streamline firefighting response.  Cost-share funding is authorized for at-risk communities to install and operate next-generation reverse-911 systems, potentially speeding up evacuations and saving lives. It also authorizes disaster response agencies to make use of NASA’s tools to speed-up the installation of post-fire, erosion-prevention measures. 

"The fire service appreciates Senator Cantwell’s leadership to solve real problems. The wildfire problem is bad and seems to be getting worse. These technological tools and new ways of fighting an old enemy will make a big difference by saving lives and property in our communities,” said Wayne Senter, a retired fire chief and current executive director of the Washington State Fire Chiefs.  

Senator Cantwell has been a strong advocate for improving wildfire response to protect firefighters and communities. In 2015, she held a series of roundtables and listening sessions across Washington state on best practices to fight wildfires, as well as a field hearing on the topic. The legislation that passed today incorporates ideas Senator Cantwell heard during those sessions. 

After passing in the Senate, the legislation now moves on to the House of Representatives, which is expected to pass the bill and send it to President Trump’s desk for signature into law. 

The full text of the bill can be found HERE.

A one-pager with more information on the Senate’s public lands package is available HERE.