Thursday a bill that would establish an official wildfire prevention and suppression research and development office within the Office of Emergency Services was introduced to the Senate.
Senate Bill 109, introduced by Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa) would have the new office, to be officially called the “Office of Wildfire Technology Research and Development” be responsible for studying, testing, and getting new technology and equipment to better combat wildfires in the future.
Under SB 109, the new office would also work with public, private, and non-profit organizations and companies in finding new equipment and tools to fight wildfires. A research and development program would also be instituted from within the office. As the new state hub for wildfire fighting equipment and technology, the office would also recommend to state and local agencies, including CalFire and fire departments, on what the best and most effective new equipment and technology is available for them.
Senator Dodd, who has previously written bills that backed new state organizations for wildfire prediction and prevention, wrote the bill to help combat the growing number of wildfires in California. In the last few years, the number of wildfires in California has grown, with six of the seven largest wildfires ever in California history happening last year alone. Wildfires have also gotten more destructive and deadly as well, with the Camp Fire in and around the town of Paradise killing over 80 people and causing billions in damages in November 2018 being the deadliest and costliest in state history.
“The escalating frequency and devastation caused by wildfires demands that we seek out emerging technology to address this urgent threat,” said Senator Dodd in a Thursday press release. “My proposal will help develop advancements and tap innovation from the public and private sectors. It will allow us to work smarter to protect life and property.”
While there has been no real support or opposition from fellow Senators as of Friday, wildfire fighters said that SB 109 could be potentially very helpful.
“You have different departments and local fire departments all going after different things,” former wildfire fighter and current volunteer fireman Ryan Gardener explained to the Globe. “I think this bill can do a lot of good. As long as they have some wildfire fighter vets in that R and D [office], I think we can find the best tools for everyone out there. If there is a tool that, say, can help create a firebreak 5% quicker, that can mean life and death for a lot of people, and that’s something everyone out there should know about and should know that it actually works.”
“If fellow wildfire fighters whose lives have been on the line test these things and found that they work, that’s enough for us and, I would like to think, taxpayers who fund us. You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who has a house in an area at risk of a wildfire to say no to something that would not only save their house better and more efficiently, but saving their lives too.”
SB 109 is expected to be sent to Senate committees in the coming weeks.
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