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U.S. Forest Service — New Report Shows Budget Impact of Rising Firefighting Costs

August 27, 2014 Comments off

New Report Shows Budget Impact of Rising Firefighting Costs
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced a new report showing that as the cost of fighting forest fires has rapidly increased over the last 20 years, the budgets for other forest programs, including those that can help prevent and mitigate fire damage, have substantially shrunk. The Forest Service’s firefighting appropriation has rapidly risen as a proportion of the Forest Service’s overall budget, increasing from 16 percent in 1995 to 42 percent today, forcing cuts in other budget areas.

“Climate change, drought, fuel buildup and insects and disease are increasing the severity of catastrophic wildfire in America’s forests,” Vilsack said. “In order to protect the public, the portion of the Forest Service budget dedicated to combatting fire has drastically increased from what it was 20 years ago. This has led to substantial cuts in other areas of the Forest Service budget, including efforts to keep forests healthy, reduce fire risk, and strengthen local economies.”

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Air Attack Against Wildfires: Understanding U.S. Forest Service Requirements for Large Aircraft

May 16, 2014 Comments off

Air Attack Against Wildfires: Understanding U.S. Forest Service Requirements for Large Aircraft
Source: RAND Corporation

An aging fleet of contracted fixed-wing airtankers and two fatal crashes in 2002 led the U.S. Forest Service to investigate how to recapitalize its fleet of airtankers. The Forest Service asked RAND for assistance in determining the composition of a fleet of airtankers, scoopers, and helicopters that would minimize the total social costs of wildfires, including the cost of large fires and aircraft costs. The research team developed two separate but complementary models to estimate the optimal social cost-minimizing portfolio of initial attack aircraft — that is, aircraft that support on-the-ground firefighters in containing a potentially costly fire while it is still small. The National Model allocates aircraft at the national level, incorporating data on ten years of historical wildfires, and the Local Resources Model provides a more nuanced view of the effect of locally available firefighting resources, relying on resource allocation data from the Forest Service’s Fire Program Analysis system. Both models favor a fleet mix dominated by water-carrying scoopers, with a niche role for retardant-carrying airtankers. Although scoopers require proximity to an accessible body of water, they have two advantages: shorter cycle times to drop water and lower cost. Two uncertainties could affect the overall optimal fleet size, however: future improvements in the dispatch of aircraft to fires and the value attributed to fighting already-large fires with aircraft.

CRS — Assistance to Firefighters Program: Distribution of Fire Grant Funding

April 17, 2014 Comments off

Assistance to Firefighters Program: Distribution of Fire Grant Funding (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via National Agricultural Law Center)

The Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) Program, also known as fire grants or the FIRE Act grant program, was established by Title XVII of the FY2001 National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 106-398). Currently administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the program provides federal grants directly to local fire departments and unaffiliated Emergency Medical Services (EMS) organizations to help address a variety of equipment, training, and other firefighter-related and EMS needs. A related program is the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Firefighters (SAFER) program, which provides grants for hiring, recruiting, and retaining firefighters.

The fire grant program is now in its 14th year. The Fire Act statute was reauthorized in 2012 (Title XVIII of P.L. 112-239) and provides new guidelines on how fire grant money should be distributed. There is no set geographical formula for the distribution of fire grants—fire departments throughout the nation apply, and award decisions are made by a peer panel based on the merits of the application and the needs of the community. However, the law does require that fire grants be distributed to a diverse mix of fire departments, with respect to type of department (paid, volunteer, or combination), geographic location, and type of community served (e.g., urban, suburban, or rural).

New: Residential Building Electrical Fires (2009-2011)

April 15, 2014 Comments off

New: Residential Building Electrical Fires (2009-2011) (PDF)
Source: U.S. Fire Administration

Findings from this report:

  • An estimated 25,900 residential building electrical fires were reported to fire departments within the United States each year. These fires caused an estimated 280 deaths, 1,125 injuries and $1.1 billion in property loss.
  • Residential building electrical fires resulted in greater dollar loss per fire than residential building nonelectrical fires.
  • In 79 percent of residential building electrical fires, the fire spread beyond the object where the fire started.
  • The leading items most often first ignited in residential building electrical fires were electrical wire/cable insulation (30 percent) and structural member or framing (19 percent).

State Fire Death Rates and Relative Risk

April 9, 2014 Comments off

State Fire Death Rates and Relative Risk
Source: U.S. Fire Administration

The fire problem varies from region to region in the United States. This often is a result of climate, poverty, education, demographics, and other causal factors. Perhaps the most useful way to assess fire fatalities across groups is to determine the relative risk of dying in a fire. Relative risk compares the per capita rate for a particular group (e.g., Pennsylvania) to the overall per capita rate (i.e., the general population). The result is a measure of how likely a group is to be affected. For the general population, the relative risk is set at 1.

In addition to the District of Columbia, the states with the highest relative risk in 2010 included West Virginia, Alabama and Mississippi. The populace of West Virginia was 3.3 times more likely to die in a fire than the general population; however, people living in Oregon, Massachusetts and Arizona were 50 percent less likely to die in a fire than the population as a whole. Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia had a relative risk higher than that of the general population. Three states, Iowa, Washington and New Mexico, had a relative risk comparable to that of the general population.

Relative risk was not computed for HI, ME, ND, VT and WY due to small numbers of fire deaths which are subject to variability.

Residential Building Garage Fires (2009-2011)

April 2, 2014 Comments off

Residential Building Garage Fires (2009-2011) (PDF)
Source: U.S. Fire Administration

An estimated 6,600 residential building garage fires were reported to United States fire departments each year and caused an estimated 30 deaths, 400 injuries and $457 million in property loss.

Findings from this report:

  • Residential building garage fires are considered part of the residential fire problem and comprised about 2 percent of all residential building fires.
  • Fires originating in residential building garages tend to be larger and spread farther than fires that start in other areas of a residence.
  • Of residential building garage fires, 93 percent occurred in one- and two-family residential buildings.
  • The leading causes of residential building garage fires were “electrical malfunction” (16 percent); “other unintentional, careless” action (15 percent); and “open flame” (11 percent).
  • Residential building garage fires occurred most often in the colder months of January and December (at 10 percent each). Additionally, residential building garage fires also peaked in July at 10 percent.
  • Electrical arcing was the most common heat source in residential building garage fires (17 percent).

CRS — United States Fire Administration: An Overview

March 11, 2014 Comments off

United States Fire Administration: An Overview (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via University of North Texas Digital Library)

The United States Fire Administration (USFA)—which includes the National Fire Academy (NFA)—is currently housed within the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The objective of the USFA is to significantly reduce the nation’s loss of life from fire, while also achieving a reduction in property loss and non-fatal injury due to fire.

The Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013 (P.L. 113-6) funded USFA at $43.942 million. Additionally, the United States Fire Administration and Training budget account was subject to a 5.0% sequestration cut, putting the FY2013 level for USFA at $41.726 million.

The FY2014 budget proposal requested $41.306 million for USFA. Of the requested total appropriation, $12.267 million would be allocated to the National Fire Academy, $11.205 million to National Fire Programs, and $17.834 million to National Emergency Training Center (NETC) Management, Operations and Support. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2014 (P.L. 113-76), signed into law on January 17, 2014, funds USFA at $44 million.

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