News

Actions

Federal programs help agencies fight wildland fires

Clint Loss
Baxendale Wildland Fire Engine
Baxendale Wildland Fire Engine
Baxendale Wildland Fire Engine
Posted at 6:41 PM, Feb 27, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-28 00:19:15-05

HELENA — The federal government announced earlier this month that it’s investing millions of dollars in a grant program to help local fire departments be ready to respond to wildfires.



The U.S. Department of the Interior is launching a pilot program to expand resources by converting more vehicles into wildland fire engines. They’re offering grants to help agencies purchase “slip-on tankers” – firefighting units, with water tanks and pumps included, that can be placed on a pickup truck or flatbed truck. DOI leaders said the goal is to help small and rural agencies quickly step up their capacity to respond.

Baxendale Wildland Fire Engine
A Baxendale Fire-Rescue wildland fire engine at Fire Station #2 near Rimini, which the volunteer department was able to get much more cheaply by putting together parts they got with help from federal agencies.

Baxendale Fire-Rescue can point to some of the advantages of putting together a wildfire rig, with help from federal partners. The volunteer department has a large Type 3 wildland engine, kept at their Fire Station #2 near Rimini.

Chief Clint Loss says the cab and engine came from a snowplow the U.S. Air Force had been using. He said the Department of Defense provided it to Baxendale for only the cost of transporting it. They then added a used flatbed, and they got a tanker unit from the U.S. Forest Service to attach to it.

“Volunteer fire departments often to try to build things to save money – but we kind of sometimes run out of time, is the biggest thing,” Loss said. “So this having been already built and just sliding it on there, bolting it down, it saved a whole lot of time.”

Baxendale Wildland Fire Engine
A Baxendale Fire-Rescue wildland fire engine at Fire Station #2 near Rimini, which the volunteer department was able to get much more cheaply by putting together parts they got with help from federal agencies.

The truck includes an 800-gallon water tank and a valve that allows them to quickly empty it into an external tank. That allows it to serve as a “tender” – used to bring water to the fireline. It also has a hose reel and a water sprayer built in.

Loss says it could take several hundred thousand dollars to purchase a rig like this, and getting the assistance from DOD and the Forest Service made it much more realistic for a small department. He says the engine is not only efficient, but a good fit for their needs.

“This particular truck has a real short wheelbase and four-wheel drive, so it gets into a lot of places that we may need to – in our district, it's rough to get to,” he said.

DOI says the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law authorized $50 million for the slip-on tanker program, with $5 million available in the first round of grants. Individual grants will range from $10,000 to $200,000, and they’re open to agencies serving populations of 25,000 or less. Agencies have until March 21 to submit statements of interest.

You can find more information about the grant here.

Loss recommended departments consider looking at this opportunity if they’re interested in upgrading their wildland engines.

“Volunteer departments should look into these types of grants,” he said. “They can be really helpful.”