AAF Conference 2015 report- Submitted by Jim Barnes

Our meeting and hospitality room in Reno this year was a great time.  We are already planning next years meeting based on important issues that could dramatically alter the way wild land fires are fought throughout our Nation.


Ron Raley gave an outstanding presentation on how the threats posed by radical NGO’s (Non Government Organizations) and activist judges could impose draconian restrictions on all phases of wild land firefighting and aerial firefighting in particular.  Ron has dedicated his life to firefighting in many capacities in the USFS.  Starting as a Firefighter to Deputy Director of Fire and Aviation Management for Region 5.  He now serves as the Phos-Check Agency Liaison.



The fight to continue the use of aircraft, bulldozers, heavy equipment and even firefighters en-mass as tools to stop and contain wild land fires is and will continue to be a daunting task.


In 2005 a Federal Judge for the United States District Court for the State of Montana a.k.a. (the green judge) Don Molloy ruled that the “unregulated” use of fire retardants dropped from aircraft is a violation of the endangered species act.  Andy Stahl the Director of the FSEEE (Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics) and litigant that sued USFS agreed with Judge Molloy.   The impetus of FSEEE’s position is a more than a “science based” philosophy; it is an ideology with a broad base of support. Mr. Stahl likens the use of aerial applied fire retardant to dropping defoliants on Vietnam or “using fans in Florida to blow hurricanes away from our coast”.   Most notably The FSEEE does not represent the U. S. Forest Service in any capacity and nobody voted for them to represent the Citizens and Taxpayers of the Unite States.


The FSEEE is but one of hundreds of NGOs that facilitate the objectives of the ultra Green agenda.   Under the banner of environmentalism these organizations advance their ideology that is often more political than ecological.   Some advocate that the solution to the problem of wild land urban interface fires is simply to move people out of the wild lands.  The rational is that millions of tax dollars for fire suppression and “environmental” damage are to protect the privileged few.  They view this as the consequence of letting people live in wild land settings.   The term “managed retreat” is a very real goal and it is gradually being implemented by onerous regulations.  Instead of fire control some believe that their real goal is total control of “human activity”.


One of the concerns that I red-stated at our meeting is our lack of preparedness for multiple fire starts throughout the western states during extreme burn periods.  Inspire magazine (ALQEADA) has a blueprint for staging an attack when fire conditions will insure success.  If that were to happen our defenses would be saturated in a matter of hours.


On the plus side the US Forest Service is slowly rebuilding our National fleet employing the new generation heavy airtankers built by the tanker industry. The Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey and Chief Tidwell have demonstrated unbending courage in standing up to the opponents of the use of aerial firefighting and retardants.  They faced jail time   for non-compliance with Judge Molloy’s 2005 ruling.  Fortunately The USFS did get their response in just under the Court’s deadline and Judge Molloy did not issue an injunction against the Forest Service.  During that same time retardant drops were credited with saving a small town. That fact may have influenced the outcome.


I reiterated that a dedicated National fleet of aerial firefighting resources must be rebuilt.  We need more of everything and we definitely need more fixed wing heavy airtankers.  When I started out in aerial firefighting, over 30 years ago, as an Air Attack Pilot there were 50 heavy airtankers Nation wide.  They were deployed to facilitate a tactical spread to effect a first strike Initial Attack.  The doctrine then was to fight fire using “overwhelming mass”.  There has been a paradigm shift in USFS doctrine but it is unclear just what that new doctrine is.


Our MAFFs units and other military assets represent an outstanding emergency capability for fighting wild land fires but putting too much reliance on these assets would not be prudent.  As the Commanding Officer of a Marine Helicopter Squadron at Camp Pendleton put it “we promise to help if we are here, we just can’t promise to be here”.  All the military components of our fire-fighting arsenal are first and foremost war fighters.  In these times of gathering threats their future mission requirements are incalculable.  We could be left with only the firefighting assets that are organic to State and Federal Government agencies whether agency owned or contracted by industry.   The AAF needs to be more pro-active in addressing these pressing issues.


Dave Wardall reported that there has been little progress in getting interested party status from the NTSB on accident investigations.  Dave and I will by discussing our future actions.  A political approach may be more effective than dealing directly with the NTSB.


NORCAL ATC Controller Mr. Alan Greene came to talk to us about firefighting in positive control airspace and areas with high traffic volume.  He has assured us that he will continue to council us during future seminars and meetings.


On the lighter side Lt. Colonel Tom McCleary’s presentation on the SR-71 was incredible.  Tom flew the last operational mission flown by an SR-71. His slide show and narrative kept us riveted to the seats and we are inviting him back next year.


All standing officers of the board were re-elected by a majority of the quorum due to low attendance at the meeting.  If AAF is to survive we had better make a better showing next year.


We need to be more proactive in stating our position to who ever wants or needs to hear it.  If we only communicate between ourselves the net effect or our efforts will be zero.

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