Employees who are blind working at NIB associated nonprofit agency NewView Oklahoma, in Oklahoma City, are playing an important role in fighting the fires ravaging the western United States this year. Since August, the agency has had 20 or more full-time employees who are blind – including the plant manager – assembling wildland fire hoses for the U.S. Forest Service.
or the primary provider of wildland fire hoses to the U.S. government, this year’s fire season cycle started no differently than any other, with NewView receiving replenishment orders in late fall 2020 for hoses needed for the 2021 season.
But as has happened in many industries during the pandemic, NewView ran up against a materials shortage and soon was operating below its production capacity.
After President Joe Biden invoked the Defense Production Act this summer, NewView was able to get the materials needed and ramp up production again.
Wildland fire hoses are different than the fire hoses used by municipal fire departments, explains NewView CEO Lauren Branch. Municipal fire hoses are heavier and wider than wildland fire hoses, which have a smaller diameter and are lighter weight, so they can be carried more easily over longer distances in rough terrain.
Fire hose production provides steady employment when materials are not in short supply, Branch said, because there is a constant need for replacement hoses. While efforts are made to reclaim used wildland fire hoses, many are burned up or left behind. The demand for wildland fire hoses has increased significantly in recent years in the wake of highly active fire seasons, says Branch. The agency made 4,000 miles of hoses last year and expects to make at least that many this year. “That’s enough to stretch across the United States and back,” says Branch.
Overall, the agency has provided more than 2 million hoses since becoming a principal supplier to the Forest Service in 2000.