Oct. 9, 2019 —
This year, the annual wildfire season has been less active, with about 28 percent fewer acers of land burning during the season than the 10-year average, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Despite this decrease in fire activity, the Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support Construction and Equipment supply chain remains ready in case disaster strikes.
DLA Troop Support provides logistical support to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildland Fire Protection Program for 151 fire equipment items, said Ashley Nixon, construction materials contracting officer in the Construction and Equipment supply chain. Some of those items include fire shelters, helmets, safety cans, water accessories, and fire hoses.
Conditions and preparedness levels can change at any time, so the supply chain is constantly planning, reviewing and buying materials, a C&E customer operations division chief Lauren Murphy said.
The U.S. Forest Service is the USDA agency that manages the wildland fire program. More than 7,100 miles of fire hose was used during the 2018 fire season, which is long enough to cover two full trips from Los Angeles to Maine, the agency reported.
After several intense fire seasons in previous years, a meeting was held at DLA Troop Support in December to discuss year-round planning to support the Wildland Fire Protection Program, Murphy said.
“We’ve always done year-round support for [fire season],” Murphy said. “[We never] stop planning or reviewing levels or stock with our vendors.”
DLA Troop Support assumed responsibility of providing logistical support to the Wildland Fire Protection Program at the start of the 2014 wildfire season. That included the 151 items, all of which were new at the time without a pipeline of vendors, and many that required first article testing, Nixon said.
Many of these items have specifications for the U.S. Forest Service that differ from the military, Alyson White, building and materials division integrated supply team chief. For example, safety cans for the Forest Service may have to be a different color than those that the military uses, or brims on fire helmets have to be different, she said.
Since C&E began supporting the Wildland Fire Protection Program, the supply chain has made adjustments to improve relationships with vendors and customers. One such change has been increasing communication to build better relationships, supplier operations division chief Donna Graham said.
“Some of our vendors are small, so they have all sorts of challenges in terms of having a large enough work force or large enough manufacturing facility to meet our needs,” Graham said.
The supply chain has visited two vendors this year, “to enhance the communication and to see firsthand what their challenges were,” Nixon said.
In an effort to be more cost effective and efficient, the supply chain is seeking additional sources so there is more than one supplier for various items, White said.
Using items that are already in stock wherever possible is one way to keep costs down, Graham said.
“We’re trying to coordinate as best as we can with the Forest Service to be more efficient and conscious of the cost impact of changes and introducing new items in the system when we have stock on-hand,” Graham said.
Phased delivery of items and establishing priorities is another way the supply chain better serves its customers, Nixon said.
“We can work with [vendors] to let them know we have a critical item that’s needed a little bit quicker than [another] order that has an earlier [delivery] date,” she said. “And we can shift gears with our vendors to get them to ship out those critical items over another item.”
Another change over the last six years has been the growth of the supply chain team at DLA Troop Support.
“One good thing about growing more staff is the key people that helped start the program six years ago are still on the team, so we’ve been able to grow and learn together and develop processes and plans to keep the program running,” Nixon said.
There are bi-weekly calls with the U.S. Forest Service about fire activity in different regions of the country, as well as a call planned for the end of fire season to discuss support for the next year, Murphy said. A meeting to plan for the 2020 wildfire season will be held this month in Battle Creek, Michigan.