Forest Service mulls changes to fire equipment lease system

Forest Service mulls changes to fire equipment lease system

24 December 2007

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We’re about as far from forest fire season as we can get, but there’s still smoke coming from the equipment procurement system.

Some Missoula contractors complained they were overlooked last summer as wildfires went crazy and the U.S. Forest Service brought in out-of-region equipment. The issue became part of the winter review and analysis government agencies share as they get ready for next summer.

“We met in Missoula with the Northern Rockies Wildfire Contractors Association on Oct. 5,” said Tim Murphy, who coordinates fire resources for the Forest Service and affiliated agencies. “There were about 100 contractors in attendance. We believe the system worked pretty well for the second year of a major change.”

Murphy acknowledged some longtime contractors had trouble getting listed on the equipment leasing system. Problems ranged from simple paperwork breakdowns to misunderstandings about new standards for equipment modernization.

One “after-action review” conclusion was to do more marketing and outreach this spring to ensure interested equipment owners know who, when and where they need to contact to ensure their wares are on the list.

Every fire season, state and federal firefighting teams lease backcountry fire engines, water tenders and logging rigs to supplement agency resources. The process is complicated by the needs of almost a dozen different agencies spread across 14 dispatch zones in the northern Rocky Mountains. More up-to-date and higher-qualified providers get priority, while those with older or less capable equipment go on an emergency rental list.

But even that list appears to have holes, according to Missoula-area contractors.

“We got everything they asked for, went to all the classes and got all the certifications,” said Jim Meyer, who owns several water tenders and skidgines for firefighting. “But last summer, they had people from out of state and we’re sitting right here in the backyard.”

Meyer said he’s had difficulties with some of the notification requirements because he’s been out of town on his year-round business when the Forest Service was meeting with contractors.

“I can’t give up other jobs on the chance they might call me,” Meyer said. “That’s part my fault. I didn’t know things had changed. If we don’t hustle our own work, we don’t get any.”

At the Forest Service, Murphy said that might be fixed by better outreach in 2008.

“We hope this spring, we will have a good marketing campaign and standard process in place,” he said. “That way, everybody knows what the rules are before the season starts.”

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