UAFA urges review of USFS fire retardant testing standards

April 5, 2024

Suspension of fire retardant testing prompts industry call for action

On April 2, 2024, the United Aerial Firefighters Association (UAFA) took a decisive step by sending a letter to agency staff and congressional representatives, highlighting the necessity for the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to promptly reevaluate its testing criteria for the certification of new fire retardants.

This move came in the aftermath of the suspension of the integrated Operational Field Evaluation (iOFE) for a Magnesium Chloride-based fire retardant, following discoveries of corrosion damage to aircraft participating in the evaluation.

Paul Petersen, Executive Director of UAFA, authored the letter, expressing grave concerns over the current certification process for new fire retardant products.

Petersen stated: “The testing process, as it stands today, has a serious impact on the safety of the U.S. aerial firefighting fleet.”

Safety concerns prompt urgent call for testing standards review

The UAFA’s letter outlines significant issues arising from the halted iOFE of the Magnesium Chloride-based retardant, including “significant corrosion” on aircraft, which could lead to substantial financial costs for repairs.

The corrosion’s severity suggests that the affected airtankers might not be operational for the 2024 fire season.

Petersen emphasized the need for an immediate reevaluation of the USFS’s Qualified Products List (QPL) process, given the outdated nature of the current testing specifications and standards.

UAFA advocates for modernized testing and inclusion in process revision

The letter further advocates for a comprehensive overhaul of the testing and qualification process for fire retardants, proposing more rigorous testing that better reflects actual aerial firefighting conditions.

The association urges a moratorium on the testing of new retardant products until reports from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) on the 2023 iOFE are published.

Moreover, UAFA seeks to be actively involved in revising the retardant specifications and determining essential safety factors, highlighting the importance of third-party laboratory involvement for unbiased validation.

In his letter, Petersen underscored the aerial firefighting industry’s commitment to safety and innovation: “As fire retardant technology continues to evolve and new products are introduced, UAFA will continue to support our industry’s innovation in the retardant industry.

However, it is imperative that the USFS revisit and modernize its process.”

FSJA Comment

The United Aerial Firefighters Association’s appeal to the U.S. Forest Service to revisit and revamp its retardant testing and certification standards is a critical juncture for aerial firefighting safety and environmental protection.

This action reflects a broader industry concern over the efficacy and safety of fire retardants used in combating wildfires, as well as the sustainability of current practices.

As technologies advance, ensuring that these innovations align with the highest standards of safety and environmental care remains paramount.

The UAFA’s proactive stance not only champions the well-being of aerial firefighters and the public but also underscores the necessity for adaptive and inclusive regulatory frameworks that can accommodate the evolving landscape of fire management technologies.

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