Colorado Governor to sign aerial firefighting bill

Colorado Firefighting Air CorpsOn May 12 Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper will sign the legislation recently passed by the House and the Senate that authorizes the Colorado Firefighting Air Corps (CFAC) to acquire a fleet of helicopters and air tankers to fight wildfires. 

The Governor will host a press conference at 11 a.m. at the Centennial Airport where he will sign the bill and give his annual wildfire briefing.

Colorado Senate Bill 14-164 appropriates $19.67 million and specifies that the CFAC purchase, lease, or contract for the use and operation of up to three helicopters in 2014. Beginning in 2015 and beyond the bill authorizes up to four air tankers.

The first version of the bill required certain specifications for the aircraft, including that the helicopters be able to carry 18 passengers and be capable of rappelling firefighters. The air tankers would have been outfitted for dropping retardant at night, something that has never been done on a regular basis.

The bill that passed both the House and the Senate provides maximum numbers of aircraft, but leaves everything else up to the CFAC. The bill requires that the agency adhere as nearly as possible to the recommendations spelled out in a report they released on March 28, titled “Special report: Colorado Firefighting Air Corps, report to the Governor and General Assembly on Strategies to enhance the state’s aerial firefighting capabilities”.

firefighting aircraft bill passed by both houses in Colorado

The legislation also creates a “center of excellence for advanced technology aerial firefighting”, to…:

  • Serve as a laboratory to evaluate the “three fundamental contributing factors to successful aerial firefighting: effectiveness, efficiency, and sustainability”.
  • Conduct research to evaluate new technology in a variety of settings, such as initial attack, night operations, and operations in wildland-urban interface areas.
  • Produce data and documentation on science and technology relevant to aerial firefighting.

The press conference will be held at the Centennial Airport, Denver jetCenter, Hangar A, 7625 South Peoria Circle, Englewood, Colorado 80112.

If any FireAviation readers attend the event do us a favor and send us some photos.

8 thoughts on “Colorado Governor to sign aerial firefighting bill”

  1. Are we in the year 1954? The establishment of the center of excellence is moving forward to fundamentally contribute factors that will bring this new technology to the fire ground, an airplane and helicopter that will help the wildland fire fighter? Here is a few names associated with excellence, Neptune, Minden, Erickson, Aero Flite, 10 Air Carrier, Snow, Dromander, and too numerous to mention helicopter operators. There is your center. Put your money on a winner.

    1. Johnny,

      Just an observation …

      The GAO complained about the lack of data when they reviewed the USFS tanker requirements and studies. The Rand corporation had the same complaint when they did the USFS air tanker study. The governor of Colorado refused to support funding for large air tankers for the same reasons.

      From my past experience in D.C. you don’t get anything out of Congress or the politicians or the “green eye shade guys” unless you have the data to back up your requirements. Aviation firefighting is underfunded for a reason … no one has the data that backs up aviation firefighting requirements, needs, or budget requests.

      Firefighters are much like the military in that they are an insular community that places very high value on experience over “bean counter’s” data and analysis. Unfortunately, those that hold the purse strings value data and analysis over a 30 year veteran’s opinion of requirements. So, the buyers aren’t likely to listen to the sellers opinion on the merit of buying their products.

      Until the firefighting community can demonstrate the value of air tankers using a data based analysis, those that control the money aren’t going to buy into the program.

      There is sound logic and reason for standing up a center of excellence to analyze air tanker performance. It will justify the use of air tankers to the politicians who control the budget. [even though, after the fact, the 30 year veteran would say … “I told you so”]

      1. Thanks for the reality check, your absolutely correct. For us who work in the “field” we see the value of quick initial attack by aircraft delivering chemically enhance water to a fire. A few comments ago I mentioned data collection on the value of keeping track of dollars saved by using aircraft in the early stages to contain an evolving fire. I don’t believe such data exist. If a model for stopping wildfires and saving taxpayer dollars ( bean counter justification) one needs only to look no farther than Cal Fire.

  2. While I don’t have hard data on my organization’s use of initial attack aircraft saving money, it still seems like a no brainer. During the summer of 2012, days where SEATs where available we caught several fires under 10 acres. In similar terrain we had a fire with no SEATS avail, and had a fire of several hundred acres the next day when LATs arrived.

    It seems spending $15,000 on initial attack and a few thousand the following days is much cheaper than waiting for the fire to grow to a priority fire and spending $500,000 for a team and a week long fire.

    The Weber Fire was heavily supported in the second day by large tankers and heavy helicopters, it made the difference to allow a complete save of all houses and kept the fire contained by natural boundaries. Had there non been air resources, it would have become much larger and much more costly.

    If it were up to me I’d fund many more SEATS instead of night capable aircraft. SEATS are way more versatile during initial attack, and having them strategically placed at smaller rural airports makes a huge difference.. Sadly CAL-FIRE is leading the way in tactics of supporting initial attack. The federal government is worried more about politics than suppression.

  3. IA
    You should document and publish your 2012 information on SEATS vs no SEATS on small fires in similar terrain. It would be invaluable supporting information for those working to justify the requirement for air tankers for initial attack.

  4. What about Lead Planes, ATGS’s, tanker base infrastructure, tanker base staffing, budget for retardent, etc?

  5. If these are the “basics”……

    Get the funding for the hardware first and get it established

    THEN worry about the other stuff later and use whatever existing facilities (except VLAT’s) one can

    Ever seen a civilian airport? They all live together pretty well…….it is just the LMA’s that need all that special infrastructure.

    All that other stuff like tanker base infrastructure is bonding or grant money and Lead Planes….plenty-o- contractors out threre and carded

    All that ATGS and staffing stuff is a HR and agency funding issue….heck you got plnty-o-retirees and people interested as AD to do this…and bet on CO using those resources!!!

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