More companies look for opportunities in firefighting efforts

For more than 25 years, Kym Kelley has made a living providing vegetation restoration following fires. Now Kelley Erosion Control hopes to use its trucks that spray hydromulch as emergency water tenders during the upcoming wildland fire season.

Interest in federal fire contracting work has increased dramatically this year as northern Nevada companies seek ways to boost revenues.

A fire-contracting workshop in Carson City in 2009 drew about five participating businesses. Similar workshops in Reno and Carson City last week drew 10 times the number about 50 participants between the two locations.

With federal fire contracts running for three consecutive years, the potential fiscal impacts for northern Nevada businesses could be significant.

"We are trying to hit as much as we can in the whole state to give small businesses the opportunity to have access to these contracting officers and find out about opportunities to support this wildland firefighting season and to get into the cycle," says Kathy Agee-Dow, deputy director of the Nevada Commission on Economic Development's Procurement Outreach Program, which helps match area businesses with government contracts.

Fire contracting workshops also will be held Saturday in Elko and April 17 in Ely.

Companies interested in landing upcoming federal fire contracting work included firms in food service, landscaping, underground infrastructure, and heavy construction.

Kelley says her hydroseeding trucks don't meet federal axle-weight standards for contracting work, but she hopes to be called upon in emergency situations to provide water to firefighters on the front lines. She also hopes to land revegetation work after fires.

"We are definitely interested this year obviously because of the situation out there," Kelley says. "Everyone is scrambling right now, so it is a lot more appealing than it has been in the past."

Kelley says the fire contracting workshop provided good contacts for future re-seeding contract work for the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.

Michele Waite, owner/secretary of Heavywaite Landscaping in Fallon, says the company is looking anywhere it can to keep revenue coming in.

The company, which specializes in commercial and residential landscaping and grounds maintenance, has shed 75 percent of its workforce in recent years. Waite says federal fire work won't be available until 2011, but getting her company involved with federal work may provide a significant revenue stream in the future.

"We have a lot of equipment sitting there doing nothing," Waite says. "We just have to be ready to bid in 2011. I think it is a good avenue."

Other equipment operators also see federal fire work as a potential way to use parked heavy machinery. Sharla Gerhardt, secretary/treasurer of Gerhardt & Berry Construction in Sparks, says the company typical installs underground utilities, but she attended the fire contracting workshop due to a decline in overall work.

"We have been around for long time, so we are pretty well established," Gerhardt says. "It's not going to make or break us, but it definitely will help the bottom line. If we don't start doing some more stuff it will be a lot more imperative."

Service providers at the workshop also included Kamp-Rite tent cots of Lovelock. Office and Sales Manager Joan Chandler says the portable single-person tents have been used by California firefighters for several years.

"In this economy anything that looks like a positive area is beneficial," Chandler says. "Unfortunately fires don't know economic times."

Judith Hepburn, area manager for the U.S. Small Business Administration, says that mobile command centers for large fires are similar to small cities and include wireless communications, sanitation, office furniture, trash disposal and portable shelters.

"We are trying to let people know that all types of products and services are being required," Hepburn says.


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