CNN reports on LA County’s Firehawks

CNN put together the above video about Los Angeles County’s Blackhawk helicopters, which they call Firehawks. The footage is impressive, and looks like an advertisement for Sikorsky and the maker of the “souped up” engines, General Electric. Some of the scenes actually did come from a commercial for GE that we had on our site in February.

Incredible rescue in Yosemite earns valor awards

Park Rangers Jeffery Webb and David Pope
Park Rangers Jeffery Webb and David Pope suspended below a hovering helicopter, pull themselves up against a rock face to rescue an injured climber. If you look carefully, you can see the small red line between the helitack personnel and the climbers. DOI photo.

(Revised on June 7 to include the pilot in the list of people who received awards.)

Four park rangers and a helicopter pilot at Yosemite National Park received awards on May 8, 2014 from Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell for an incredible rescue which required suspending personnel 150 feet below a helicopter that was hovering for an extended period of time close to the vertical rock face of El Capitan in California.

On September 26, 2011 a climber suffered a lead fall which resulted in the amputation of his thumb. Miraculously, the thumb fell onto a nearby ledge and was recovered by the climber’s partner. A traditional rescue from that location involves inserting a team onto the summit, lowering a rescuer 1,000 feet to the injured climber, and then lowering the injured climber and rescuer an additional 2,000 feet to the ground. That takes many hours, would have been complicated by darkness, and would have significantly reduced the chance of successfully reattaching the thumb. Instead, an advanced and experimental technique was used which involves establishing a tag line from the helicopter to the vertical wall. This technique, practiced but never before employed in an actual rescue, requires a long hover time by the pilot while spotters and riggers on board the helicopter establish a fixed line and monitor the helicopter’s position.

Assistant Helitack Foreman Jeff Pirog rigged the tag line and monitored tail and rotor clearances while the helicopter hovered in close proximity to the wall. Yosemite Helitack Foreman, Eric Small, established the tag line from the helicopter by throwing a weighted ball with an attached string from the open door of the helicopter to the injured climber. Once the tag line was established, Mr. Small dropped his end of the tag line down the 150-foot long short haul line to the rescuers suspended blow.

At the end of the short haul rope, Jeffery Webb and David Pope used the tag line to pull themselves over to the climbers and prepared the injured person for evacuation. When they were ready, Mr. Pope and the injured climber were released from the wall and onto the short haul system. The helicopter, piloted by Richard B. Shatto, transported them to El Capitan Meadow where the injured climber and his amputated thumb were transferred to an air ambulance. Later that night doctors successfully reattached the thumb.

Mr. Webb remained on the wall with the injured climber’s partner overnight; they were evacuated the following morning.

Department of Interior Valor Awards were given to the four NPS personnel mentioned above: Jeff Pirog, Eric Small, Jeffery Webb, and David Pope. The pilot, Mr. Shatto, was not a DOI employee and therefore not eligible for a Department Valor Award, but he did receive a Citizens Award for Bravery from Secretary Jewell.

Yosemite awards
L. to R.: Jeff Pirog, David Pope, Eric Small, Secretary Jewell, Jeff Webb, and Richard Shatto.

Our thoughts

The amount of expertise required to accomplish something like this is mind-boggling — the training, planning, helitack skills, pilot skills, and rock climbing experience. And to pull it off expertly during an emergency is very impressive and certainly worthy of a major award. Congratulations to all five.

National Park Service pilots

NPS pilots

The Smithsonian’s Air and Space Magazine has an interesting article about pilots who fly for the National Park Service. Here’s how it begins:

The chance to see from the air some of Earth’s most beautiful places is the most obvious reward of flying for the U.S. National Park Service. But the job also has unique risks, as Weino “Tug” Kangus, the most experienced airman in park service history, can attest. Now 72 with 39 years as a pilot, Kangus still flies five days a week over Lake Powell’s breathtaking 185-mile-long expanse of rock and deep water in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in Utah and Arizona.

I ask him about a particularly memorable moment in his career. “Some Navajo bad guys shot two officers and burned their bodies on the San Juan River,” he says of a 1987 incident. “We spent time flying with the FBI looking for those guys, and we found out about two years later that one of them was hiding out in a hogan [adobe dwelling] on the reservation. We dropped down low enough where we could look right in the door of that hogan, and there he was, standing in the doorway with a high-powered rifle with a ’scope, pointed right at us. I’ve been in on scores of those things—that’s what we do.”

Law-enforcement missions, Kangus says, require precision flying. “You’re not going to arrest anybody from the air, though I have pulled them over and have them spread-eagle on the ground. The thing is, if you can’t control your aircraft in a 30-degree [bank], low enough that you can read a license plate or follow footprints in the desert, you should be in a different business.”

 

Rappel training academy for firefighters

Rappel training in Salmon ID

About 80 rookies are going through the National Rappel Academy in Salmon, Idaho this week.

Below is an excerpt from an article at LocalNews8:

The National Rappel Academy in Salmon is one of a kind. For the fourth consecutive year veteran rappellers, who trained two weeks ago, are teaching nearly 80 rookies for a week in preparation of a busy summer season.

The rookies go through ground training before practicing from a tower that simulates a helicopter. A spotter, check spotter and rappeller all practice from the top of the deck.

Don Campbell, a specialist at the National Rappel Academy, has actual experience in every position. He said the future heli-rappellers will focus on the initial attack on wildfires.

Carrie Bond, a rookie from Iowa, said her week of training has been busy but exciting.

“It’s intimidating to look at the towers and look at the helicopters go up, but the crew here has been awesome,” said Bond. “I couldn’t ask for a better crew.”

Colorado seeks bids for helicopters

A K-MAX helicopter working the Myrtle Fire
A K-MAX helicopter working the Myrtle Fire in South Dakota, July 19, 2012. Photo by Bill Gabbert for Fire Aviation.

The State of Colorado has taken another affirmative step toward acquiring a fire aviation fleet. They have advertised for bids to provide up to three helicopters. There are two announcements, one for a Type 2 helicopter, and another for “up to two” Type 3 helicopters.

The bid due date is June 13, and the state expects the one-year contract to begin on July 1, 2014.

Their plan was to contract for three or four helicopters in 2014 and up to four large air tankers in 2015 and beyond.
Thanks and a hat tip go out to Bean

Night flying fire suppression drill scheduled in California

The Kern County Fire Department in Bakersfield, California will be hosting a night flying and night vision goggles (NVG) fire suppression drill on June 5. The Department recently distributed the following information. It is interesting in that it will involve not only night flying helicopters, but also crews, engines, and dozers.

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“On June 5, 2014 the Kern County Fire Department will be hosting the Southern California Interagency NVG Fire Suppression Drill in the Greater Tehachapi area. Kern County Fire Department, Orange County Fire Authority, Los Angeles City Fire Department, Los Angeles County Fire Department, Ventura County Fire/Sheriff, and the US Forest Service will participate in the drill with their aircraft.

The drill will begin at 2:00 PM with aircraft arriving at the East Ramp of Tehachapi Municipal Airport, the Drill Helibase. The airport east ramp will be closed to other aircraft and access will be limited to drill participants, Fire Service observers, and support staff only.

The Drill In-briefing will commence at 3:00 PM, following the brief aircraft will conduct area familiarization flights during daylight and return to the Helibase where dinner will be provided at 18:00. NVG Fire suppression operations will commence at approximately 8:45 PM, concluding at approximately 1:00 AM on June 6th. Fire suppression apparatus, including crews, engines, and dozers will be stationed at the burn site on Cummings Ranch.

Helicopters will depart the Helibase on order from the HLCO, proceed to the Tank-Fill site near Brite Lake, take on water and commence water-drop operations by flying circuits from the Tank-Fill site to the fire site on Cummings Ranch. Aircraft will complete as many evolutions as required for each pilot to demonstrate proficiency in night water drop operations. Additionally, Fire Crews will have the opportunity to work with night water-dropping helicopters to practice, train, and develop night water-drop coordination procedures (Identification, Communication, Feedback, etc.).

Aerial Supervision will be provided by the USFS Night Air Attack airplane and Kern County Fire NVG HLCO.”