National Wildfire Suppression Association Promotes Best Value Contract

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Best Value Contracting the Best way to do business when hiring contract resources to fight wildfires!

Thousands of homes and millions of acres of forest in the U.S. have been lost to wildfires in the last five years. The financial cost of that loss is immense. But how do you evaluate the loss of memories created in a home that is reduced to ashes in a firestorm? More and more families living in the urban-wildland interface have experienced the terror and sadness of emergency evacuation as they gathered what they could—often just the clothes on their backs—and fled the flames. They watched legions of firefighters battle to save both their forests and their homes.

Responding to the hundreds of wildland fires across the west is a huge task requiring thousands of resources in firefighters and equipment. If you live in an urban-wildland interface community, or if it is your friend or loved one on that fireline, you want them to be as well-trained and skilled as possible.

Who are these men and women who wage war against wildland fires to save your forests and the homes you treasure? Who are these people who eat heat and dirt and smoke to help protect the memories you would have to leave behind if evacuated?

Federal and state agencies are responsible for managing wildland fire suppression, but cuts in government personnel increasingly require them to rely on contracting for the resources they need to meet the challenge of huge fires. Inmates, National Guard, and structure fire fighters comprise some of these resources.

A lot of people are not aware that a major and growing source of help is a large group of private sector wildland firefighters who live in your communities. In fact, almost half of all resources on the fireline are private. Seventy-five percent of the private crew contractors in the United States come from the Pacific Northwest where these companies can field . more than 5,000 professionally-trained wildland firefighters.

Private contractor companies in Oregon and Washington (the Pacific Northwest Region) are hired by government agencies under contracts for crews and contracts for engines and tenders. It is not an easy way to make a living. Under these contracts, there are no work guarantees and crews are hired on an as-needed basis. To qualify for the contract, companies invest more than $30,000 per 20-person crew just for training and personal protective equipment in the event they might be dispatched. Those costs do not include transportation, fringe benefits, workers compensation and taxes.

The real problem, however, is that the old agreement did not ensure that the agencies got the best resources. In the old agreement, awards were based on lowest bid and closest resource regardless of a company’s past performance, qualifications, and experience. This kind of system can encourage substandard training and safety practices. Contractors who use poorly trained and equipped firefighters endanger themselves and others and, indirectly affect you, the tax payer.

Your best hope for highly trained firefighters to protect your homes, your forests and your taxpayer dollar is the new “Best Value” contracting system. “Best Value” award rankings for dispatch are based on crew experience, past performance, safety records, and other stringent requirements.

Under this system the smaller contractor has just as much ability to rank higher and therefore get more dispatches if they “play by the rules,” strive for professionalism and, above all else, provide a safe work environment for their firefighters. This system does not care about gender or race, but about the things that really matter, such as, firefighter safety, and the experience and qualifications to protect your home and our environment.

Wouldn’t you want to know that your loved one on the fire line is working with other crews that meet or exceed the requirements for safety standards, and training? Wouldn’t you want to know that your memories left behind are being protected by the best trained and qualified personnel available for the job?

That is what “Best Value Contract” does, and we applaud the Oregon Department of Forestry and the U.S. Forest Service for their efforts in providing an avenue that helps ensure the safety of our firefighters and our environment.

Debbie Miley is currently the Executive Director for the National Wildfire Suppression Association, which represents over 250 private fire companies nationally. She is also a past president of the NWSA and a former fire contractor for over 10 years.

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