WASHINGTON (GrayDC) - Firefighters may soon have the high-tech tools they need to combat some of the country's worst wildfires and save lives.
A bill calling to revolutionize wildland firefighting techniques is set to become law if signed by the president.
"I think that these modernization techniques will save lives," said Rick Swan, the IAFF director for Wildland Services.
Swan made a 33-year career fighting wildfires. In his day, critical information could take days before it reached firefighters on the front lines. Now, potentially life-saving updates can spread even faster than the fire itself.
"Fighting fires isn't a couple days later, it's a minute by minute, second by second effort," said Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), who introduced the bipartisan legislation with Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.).
Gardner voted in favor of putting GPS tracking systems on firefighters, giving commanders a real-time data of where their crews are, and whether they're in danger.
"If you can have real-time data about what the fire is doing and changing at the moment, you're going to save lives. And if you're saving lives, you're saving communities," Gardner said.
Congress also wants more drones flying into these wildfires getting an even better picture.
But spokespeople for the firefighters' union say the remote-controlled flying cameras could be risky because they would be sharing space with helicopters.
"They don't mix really well," Swan said.
"Those things are very hard to see when they're in the air," he explained.
The president still needs to sign off on the new tools before they can be used.
But that's expected soon, and federal agencies are already trying to figure out how they can best use the technology.
Gardner says they are also want to work closely with local fire departments to put the plan into action, from volunteer firefighters to professional firefighters.