The AFUE study employs a three-pronged approach to data collection. At the national and seasonal scale, existing databases containing aviation operations and use records are used to compile overall use trends.
AFUE employs four data collection modules consisting of three firefighters each, all of whom are operationally qualified and self-sufficient. The modules are made up of firefighters qualified at the single-resource level and above with numerous years of operational background experience including Interagency Hotshot Crews, Smokejumpers, Engines, Helitack Crews and Wildland Fire Use Modules. These modules have duty stations in Regions with high aviation usage, but are dispatched through the AFUE coordinator to other locations based on fire activity nationwide. Module crewmembers also rotate staffing for a single aerial observation aircraft dedicated to AFUE.
AFUE ground and aerial observation modules work in partnership with incident commanders, local forests, dispatch centers and air tanker bases. The presence of AFUE resources is not intended to influence the decision process of incident management, nor individual outcomes of fires where data is collected. If incident support of the AFUE observation modules becomes critical for mitigating immediate hazards, crewmembers will disengage the data collection mission and support the incident commander as requested.
AFUE modules frequently receive requests from Incident Management Teams or local units to share incident-specific information during and after data collection assignments. Some information can be made immediately available, such as general locations and times of aerial suppression activity. Some information may not be immediately available. In cases where the information requested includes data that requires quality-control review or aviation management approval for release, AFUE module crewmembers forward the request to AFUE leadership, who work directly with the requestor to document the request and ensure that the information released is accurate and managed appropriately after delivery.
AFUE is developing a process to collect high-quality geospatial performance data using advanced aircraft-mounted sensors. The mission of the AFUE aircraft is to capture firefighting aircraft drops using an onboard sensor so that the drops’ effectiveness in meeting tactical and strategic objectives can be evaluated. The type of sensor being used allows the airplane to orbit over the fire at 10,000ft AGL, capturing individual drops at high resolution within a frame several miles wide.