Commercial Aerial Firefighters Positioned For Possible Southern California Duty

American Helicopter Services and Aerial Firefighting Association | November 22, 2007

Estimated reading time 4 minutes, 50 seconds.

Commercial aerial firefighting companies have deployed assets to Southern California in the event that anticipated high temperatures and forecasted Santa Ana winds generate another round of wild fires over the Thanksgiving weekend.

“We want the public to know that the civilian operators of aerial firefighting equipment are on location and ready to go in case of a fire,? said Robin Rogers, vice-president of Fresno, California-based Rogers Helicopters.”  The company has deployed four aircraft, including three Bell 212 helicopters, along with a fixed wing Turbo-Commander that will serve as an airborne coordinator and command post.  The aircraft, Rogers explained, were called up by the US Forest Service (USFS) on Monday, November 18, and have been sent to the Los Padres, Cleveland, and Angeles National Forests where they will remain until released by the government.

Erickson Air-Crane of Central Point, Oregon, already has two S64 Helitankers in Southern California under long-term contracts to the Los Angeles City and Los Angeles County Fire Departments.  According to Lanny Allmaras, the company?s fire fighting manager, the helicopters are based at Van Nuys Airport where each is supported by a crew of five–two pilots, two mechanics and one fuel truck operator.  “We could double-crew those helicopters, if needed,” Allmaras said.

Fixed wing Airtanker operator Neptune Aviation also has two P2Vs on location in Southern California, but Kristen Nicolarsen, President of Neptune Aviation in Missoula, Montana reported that due to the expected fire danger, an additional four P2Vs have been called up by the US Forest Service. “We will have a total of six aircraft positioned and available at Lancaster, Santa Maria, and San Bernardino,” Kristen said.

At Gillespie Field in Northern San Diego County, Intermountain Helicopters has had a Eurocopter SA315B Lama on standby since Monday November 19, according to Pete Gookin, the Columbia, California-based company?s chief pilot.  The aircraft was deployed under contract to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) with a three man crew, including two pilots and a fuel truck operator.  The SA315B will be used in an airborne coordinating role, and could be double-crewed, if needed.  Gookin also reported that a Bell 212 operated by the company is currently on standby for duty in Southern California, if needed.

In nearly all cases, crews may be giving up the Thanksgiving holiday, if called to fight a late-season fire.  “Our crews know that in the event of an emergency they could be away from home on Thanksgiving,? said Intermountain Helicopters? Pete Gookin.  ?Their families also understand this, because it is what we do.”

Another helicopter in a standby mode in Southern California is an S58T operated by Construction Helicopters of Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Currently, a three-person crew is ready to deploy from the helicopter?s base at Jackson, California, under a CalFire “call when needed” contract.

Geoseis/Evergreen Helicopters also has one S64 SkyCrane Helitanker in Southern California according to Dick Carmine of Evergreen Helicopters in McMinnville, Oregon.

Erik Josephson of San Joaquin Helicopters in Delano, California reports they have one Bell 212 helicopter currently on contract for USFS at Chuchupate in Southern California and two more available at from Delano which is a 1.5 hour flight to Southern California.

Rogers Helicopters, Erickson Air-Crane, Neptune Aviation Services, Intermountain Helicopters, Construction Helicopters, Evergreen Helicopters, and San Joaquin Helicopters are members of the American Helicopter Services and Aerial Firefighting Association (AHSAFA).  AHSAFA is the Washington-based trade association representing operators of helicopters and fixed wing aircraft before the US Department of Agriculture-Forest Service; the US Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management; the Bureau of Indian Affairs; the Fish and Wildlife Service; the National Park Service; and various State wild land firefighting agencies.  The association also represents its members on Capitol Hill by working with key congressional offices for the promotion of aerial firefighting industry needs and support; and at key government agency meetings to monitor and provide input on issues impacting the aerial firefighting industry. AHSAFA also interfaces with other trade groups with common interests.


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