Senator Gardner proposes wildfire bill that could save firefighter lives

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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO/KJCT)-- Senator Cory Gardner, (R) CO, is sponsoring a new bill he says will help save the lives of firefighters.

"This is a bill that is going to help give more data, real-time data, to firefighters, that will help prevent injuries, help keep our firefighters, men and women, safe as they are fighting fires. Give them real-time data,” said Gardner.

The Wildfire Management Technology Advancement Act is a part of the Lands Bill. It would require the Forest Service and Department of the Interior to provide GPS locators to each firefighter and to allow crews to use drones.

"So, currently, we don't have a system to track the locations of firefighters in real time when they are on the ground, we use voice radios, basically walkie talkie[s], to communicate,” said Brad Schmidt, Wildland Fire Project Manager, Center for Excellence for Advanced technology Aerial Firefighting in Colorado.

Their main focus is on a new app called the team awareness kit. It tracks where each crew member is at all times even in remote locations.

“That way everyone can see where everyone else is at in real time. And that not only improves the safety of firefighters but also can help them more effective,” said Schmidt.

The software was first developed by the U.S. Airforce research lab. It also tracks safety zones, lookout locations, pumps, and fire lines.

The bill would also advance technology to track smoke movement.

"Where a fire might grow, and then part of that is we can also get a forecast on where the smoke from that fire will go,” said Schmidt.

The bill would also require communities to have better reverse 911 systems.

Schmidt says the new technology was tested during the Lake Christine, Cabin Lake, and Tabeguache fires last year.

Senator Gardner says they'll move forward with the bill once the government re-opens.

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