More than 10 million acres in the United States burned during last year’s record-setting wildfire season. And since the 2014 season, Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support has provided materiel to help wildland firefighters contain the infernos.
These items, from pumps and hoses to headlamps, are managed through the Wildland Fire Protection Program.
DLA Troop Support began managing the program at the start of the 2014 wildfire season. And the relationships between DLA Troop Support, the manufacturers, the U.S. Forest Service and the DLA Distribution Depots have continuously improved since then, said Lauren Colabelli, integrated supplier team chief with the Construction and Equipment supply chain.
“Everyone is really in-sync with this, so it’s really helped,” Colabelli said. “We are moving towards setting up long-term contracts with the manufacturers directly. It’s helping us to reduce costs overall and reduce lead time.”
Cultivating those relationships have paid off in instances such as when the Forest Service requested a different kind of firefighting hose than DLA normally provides to Department of Defense customers.
“A lot of DOD materiel is brass,” said Barry Smith, a product specialist with the WFPP. “A lot of the Forest Service materiel is lightweight aluminum.”
While the Navy requires their hoses to be fitted with heavy brass, the Forest Service needed hoses fitted with the lighter material to carry long distances through the forests or scrubland that they normally operate in.
Smith contacted one of the companies that supplies DOD with brass fittings for hoses, and they agreed to start making aluminum fittings for the Forest Service.
Smith has also traveled to the depots and established relationships with the warehouse managers. The DLA depots receive, store and repackage items from vendors for distribution to customers.
Smith said that having someone at the depot who he could reach out to has allowed him to quickly answer questions from the manufacturer or the Forest Service regarding issues such as delivery times, proper packaging and labeling requirements.
“The relationships we have with the Forest Service and the depots, it makes things work so much smoother,” Smith said. “It ultimately allows material to get out quicker to the customer.”
Lauren Murphy, the division chief overseeing C&E’s wildland fire protection support, said that they’re managing the program more effectively and continue to adapt it based on customer requirements and fire activity.
Weekly communication with the Forest Service keeps Murphy’s team informed of their needs. There is daily communication during the peak of wildfire season.
Communication between the Forest Service and DLA has steadily improved since the 2014 fire season, said Samuel Wu, a Forest Service engineer at the San Dimas Technology and Development Center.
“There was a significant learning curve at first. But a lot of the initial problems and miscommunications have been gradually smoothed out,” Wu said. “Personally, I know the staff at DLA Troop Support quite well now, and speak several times a week with DLA employees to achieve mission results.”
Wu said that DLA has also been proactive about addressing and resolving equipment issues that are reported by the firefighting community.
“This ultimately allows firefighters to fight wildfires more effectively and safely, and builds up trust in the quality of the equipment they rely on,” Wu said.
Colabelli said that the Forest Service has been a good customer to work with.
“Even last year, when it was the worst fire season in 10 years, and we pretty much ran out of every inch of hose we had in our depots, even at that point, they were still calm,” Colabelli said. “They’re not one to point fingers. They get it. They know we did everything we possibly could to support them.”
DLA manages 301 wildland firefighting items. C&E manages 155 of those items. The Clothing and Textiles supply chain supports the program with personal protection equipment, sleeping bags, canteens and more. And the Subsistence supply chain provides wildland firefighters with Meals, Ready-to-Eat.
The WFPP was managed by the U.S. General Services Administration prior to DLA assuming responsibility in 2014.