A Historical Examination of US Fire Policy to Explain Aircraft's Political and Policy-based Relationships Regarding Wildland Firefighting
This thesis was written in order to understand the history of US fire policy and how aircraft's involvement in the fire scene has evolved since its first usage as a surveillance tool. I formed an interest in aerial firefighting as soon as I started to learn how to fly when I was 16 because my instructors owned and operated Billings Flying Service, which provides helicopter-based aerial firefighting services. Last year I was able to be a part of an aerial crew and acted as a third crew member aboard a CH-47D, or Chinook. During this experience, I came to realize that firefighting was not as black and white as it seems it should be and observed a lot of inefficiency with aircraft usage. It was from the experience and resulting observations that I found the idea behind my thesis. However, I learned that in order to understand the contemporary fire policies and aircraft's role in them, the history of the fire policy had to be examined and understood. Therefore, I began this thesis with the first paid firefighters in US History and then worked toward the modern era. This historical examination of fire policies and aerial firefighting illustrates the transformations that these subjects had undergone and helped to reveal how the fire scene of today has come to be, especially regarding the fire industrial complex that has formed. In the end, I realized that fires were no longer being fought because they should be fought, but because people and politicians expected them to be fought and expected to see aircraft in the fight, no matter the cost or effectiveness. I conclude this thesis with my own thoughts on how fire policy should be changed in order to protect the environment and return the exorbitant cost of firefighting, especially regarding aerial firefighting resources, back to a reasonable size.