Aerial Firefighting: A Vital and Indispensable Component of Fighting Wildfire
Published: 7/21/2023
Author: Paul Petersen, Executive Director, United Aerial Firefighters Association

If you take part in aerial firefighting, you might have heard of a new trade association that was launched in 2022: the United Aerial Firefighters Association (UAFA). The UAFA is the only trade association dedicated to aerial firefighting and it has a mission to promote safety, effectiveness, innovation, and collaboration in the aerial firefighting community. The UAFA also aims to inform policymakers and legislators about the primary issues concerning aerial wildland firefighting, which is becoming more critical and complex due to the increasing worldwide wildfire challenges.

As wildland firefighting has become more complex with increased length of seasons and greater impacts to the landscape, there’s been more of an emphasis and need of aerial resources. As a notable example, the U.S. Forest Service found itself in a recent lawsuit concerning the application of fire retardant. This legal action ignited a contentious debate surrounding the environmental consequences and effectiveness of this crucial firefighting resource and its use by aircraft. The world is seeing more flight hours, more retardant, and more aviation use. This increased use has not only shown the criticality of aviation resources, but the long term need to plan for the entire Aerial Wildland Firefighting Industry. 

The UAFA has a vision for the future of aerial firefighting: to be recognized as a vital and indispensable part of wildfire management. To achieve this vision, the UAFA has set three goals: to foster and enhance communication and collaboration among firefighting organizations, industry, and other stakeholders; to work with UAFA Members and Local, State and Federal Agencies to improve contracting processes and outcomes; and to promote the safety and effectiveness of aerial firefighting operations.

The UAFA recently hired Paul Petersen to serve as the Executive Director and Tiffany Taylor as the organization's Senior Policy Director. Paul has 30 years of fire and aviation experience ranging from being a firefighter, Incident Commander, Fire Management Officer and most recently as the State Fire Management Officer for the Bureau of Land Management in Nevada. Tiffany was most recently the Senior Procurement Executive for the Department of Agriculture and prior to that served in the Chief of Contracting Office role for incident support contracts for the U.S. Forest Service. She has almost 25 years of contracting experience with the Navy, Forest Service and USDA. 

The UAFA has named several priorities for 2023 and 2024. These include:

Collaboration. Creating opportunities for collaboration between stakeholders across agencies and industry is the primary goal. It aims to improve the knowledge and understanding of the industry's business needs and challenges among the agencies that contract aerial firefighting services, such as the US Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the National Interagency Fire Center. This includes improving agencies' knowledge of industry business needs, such as operational costs, maintenance requirements, and workforce challenges. It also involves improving congressional knowledge of industry needs, such as funding stability, contract flexibility, and liability protection. Additionally, it entails improving congressional knowledge of agency challenges, such as budget constraints, resource gaps, and regulatory barriers. The UAFA plans to organize meetings, workshops, webinars, and site visits to help information exchange and dialogue among these stakeholders. 

Increasing membership. The UAFA looks to expand its membership base to include more aerial firefighting operators, suppliers, customers, and supporters. It also looks to diversify its membership to reflect the variety in the aerial firefighting community in terms of size, type, location, and mission. The UAFA plans to launch a membership campaign that highlights the benefits of joining the association, such as networking, advocacy, education, and recognition.

Wildfire Commission Engagement. This involves working with agencies and Congress on the planning and implementation of the Congressional Wildfire Commission Report. The UAFA has and will continue to work with the Wildfire Commission so that the role and value of aerial firefighting can be considered in its analysis and recommendations. This will help shape the future of the Aerial Wildland Fire Industry for the next 10 years or more. By engaging with the Wildfire Commission, UAFA will be able to stand for the Aerial Fire Industry and drive the innovation needed to improve and transform the industry for the next decade. 

Adding value to Membership. The UAFA plans to supply value-added services and products to their members to meet their needs and expectations. Member input will drive the development and implementation of the solutions that enhance member satisfaction and engagement. Training, data analysis, and collaboration opportunities will all be part of the value.

The UAFA welcomes anyone who shares their passion and vision for improving wildfire fighting outcomes. It invites companies who own or lease and operate aircraft, UAVs, drones, or provide aerial-delivered suppressants and retardants under contract with federal or state governmental entities for aerial firefighting services to join its membership. The UAFA also encourages companies who support the aerial firefighting industry by providing products and services along with nonprofits, state agencies, national agencies to join its membership. An international focus will come next.

The UAFA believes that by collaborating with its members and partners, it can make a positive difference in the aerial firefighting community and help protect lives, property, and natural resources from wildfires.

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