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Larry Stirling
Larry Stirling is a former State Senator and Retired Superior Court Judge

Up In Smoke
Paying for disaster twice...
[Larry Stirling] 10/31/03

The California National Guard (CNG) “owns” (and therefore the Governor has direct control over) 13 C-130’s.

(The CNG also owns 22 ancient Blackhawks and 12 older Chinooks. But helicopters do not pack the range, speed, or the stopping power of the C-130’s)

(Also, I do not quibble with the fact that the CNG has other missions. It is simply a matter of priorities.)

Two of the aforementioned C-130’s are equipped with Mobil Air Fire Fighting Systems (MAFFS) and have been sitting at Pt. Magu awaiting orders to fight fires. As of this writing, (October 28th in the AM) they have not flown a single sortie against any of our fires.

So when the Governor says he has thrown all available assets at the fire, he is not telling the truth.

Had his own CNG aircraft been ordered up IN THE FIRST FOUR HOURS OF THE FIREFIGHT, it is entirely possible that they could have completely preempted one or both of the major fires.

In addition, the Governor could have “moved up” more of the C-130’s that the state owns on what every veteran Californian clearly knew, this was a peak fire season based on rainfall and Santa Ana winds.

In addition, (according the Jay LaSuer and Duncan Hunter) OES Director Snodgrass REFUSED repeated request from San Diego authorities to permit the request for the availability of similarly equipped aircraft from other States’ Guard or Reserve Units or active duty military until the President declared California as “disaster.”

The issue is in the mind of the bureaucrats is “who pays for the aircraft?” If the State waits until the President acts, then the Federal Government pays for the aircraft operation.

The trouble with that whole notion is that WAITING precipitates the disaster.

And then WE PAY FOR THE DISASTER TWICE, first by enduring it and then via our taxes as reconstruction occurs. But no one can pay for the lives lost.

Fires have to be jumped on immediately with overwhelming force.

The present system of employment of aerial resources is driven by private Federal contracting policies which MAXIMIZES the incentives of private contractors to want MORE fires and fires that LAST AS LONG AS POSSIBLE to maximize their income.

The underlying problem is the perverse and pro-fire incentives built into the entire fire fighting system from top to bottom.

From pilots to Indian Tribes, money is made only IF THERE IS A FIRE.

This guarantees the annual “Torching of America” as one national magazine called it several years ago.

Just start following the news and notice how many fires are started by people involved in firefighting and then connect the dots.

Contracting procedures should be amended to SHARE THE VALUE OF NO FIRES with those that the government has inadvertently hooked on this money.

(For an example of this notion, see Rudy Giuliani’s book on his mayorship and how he dealt with the foster child issue.)

In addition, the system of emergency command and control is long and filled with PEOPLE WHO CAN SAY NO, but few who CAN SAY YES to the immediate availability of necessary aircraft.

The chain includes: local agency; then county emergency services; then regional emergency services; then CDF; then OES; then (state) Homeland Security; THEN the governor. And this is just IN-STATE decision making. It becomes imponderable when such decisions involve other states or the Federal Forestry department.

It is the de facto policy of this long chain of command to ALWAYS FIGHT A GROUND WAR FIRST and to minimize the AIR WAR apparently because of the cost of the aircraft.

The Federal Forestry contracting out procedures need an overhaul. So does the Federal law regarding “disaster declarations.” And the Federal law regarding the reimbursement of the military establishment for its assets.

Military equipment, designed for war, is deemed by State authorities to be too inefficient (“expensive”) to call up on a regular basis. So when it is needed, (every year about this time) it should be understood to be an emergency. Emergency responses should be considered as part of their non-combat mission and not a for-profit collateral operation.

A sad day for our state, but I personally know that it has been this way since the Normal Heights fire in 1985.

You would think that in almost twenty years SOME OF THE BRILLIANT BRASS that we pay so much and give such wonderful retirements to would have figured out the perverse incentives built into the system and adjusted them to actually improve the public safety.

Will we just forget this time too?.

copyright 2003 Larry Stirling


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