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.

Cause of helicopter hoist fatality similar to earlier rappel death

Harness connection
A demonstration of the improper harness connection. Air Force photo.

An investigative report determined that the cause of a fatality that occurred to a volunteer while he was being lowered by a helicopter’s hoist over the Sequoia National Forest was similar to a previous rappelling accident that killed a U.S. Forest Service employee in 2009.

Use of hoist
File photo. Pararescuemen from the 304th Rescue Squadron Portland Air National Guard Base, Ore., practice their rescue skills with an HH-60 Pave Hawk and crew from the 305th RQS at nearby Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Ruby Zarzyczny

The Air Force report released last week by the Virginia-based Air Combat Command said improper rigging and inadequate oversight caused the death of Shane Krogen, executive director of the High Sierra Volunteer Trail Crew, 30 miles east of Visalia, California, on September 12, 2013.

Mr. Krogen was participating in an environmental clean-up and restoration of a contaminated marijuana grow site in the Sequoia National Forest that was carried out by California Air National Guard’s 129th Rescue Wing. While preparing to be lowered by the hoist on an HH-60G Pavehawk helicopter, a variant of a Blackhawk, Mr. Krogen mistakenly attached the aircraft’s hoist to a non-load-bearing plastic D-ring of a tactical vest instead of to the load-bearing metal D-ring of his harness. When the plastic D-ring broke, Mr. Krogen fell from the aircraft to the ground from an approximate 45-foot hover and sustained fatal injuries.

The report concluded that the helicopter crew’s safety man did not maintain adequate oversight during flight and hoist operations and that Mr. Krogen’s use of his personal equipment “excessively cluttered the area around the load-bearing metal D-ring”, interfering with a safe connection and visual inspection. And, “due to the extremely close proximity of the Yates harness load bearing D-ring in relation to the Condor tactical vest’s non-load bearing D-ring, and the concealment of both D-rings by the cluttered pouches on the Condor tactical vest, which included a handgun, the [safety man] incorrectly concluded the Civilian Fatality was properly secured”.

The report also said that according to the Pentagon only law enforcement personnel should be allowed on counterdrug flights and that Mr. Krogen, as a civilian, was not authorized to be on the helicopter.

Thomas Marovich, a U.S. Forest Service firefighter, died on July 21, 2009 when he fell while performing routine helicopter rappelling proficiency training while assigned to the Backbone fire near Willow Creek, California. The USFS report was posted and later removed from the Lessons Learned web site, but Wildfire Today was able to report on it while it was still public. The National Transportation Safety Board Narrative revealed that Mr. Marovich’s “J” hook had been attached to a rubber “O” ring, rather than to a load-bearing Tri-link (see the photos below).

Marovich gear

Before the rappelling attempt, four people looked at or inspected Mr. Marovich’s rappelling gear: the spotter trainee who installed the “O” ring, Marovich, and in the helicopter a spotter, and another helitack crewperson who did a “buddy check”.

National Guard helicopters arrive at the Rim Fire

Blackhawk helicopters Rim Fire

Robert Martinez was kind enough to send us some photos he took yesterday, August 27, at Columbia Airport (map) a few miles north of Sonora, California. Army UH-60 Blackhawks and Air Guard HH-60 Pave Hawks had arrived to be briefed and refueled before they were sent on to the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park, about 10 miles southeast of the airport.Blackhawk helicopters Rim Fire Blackhawk helicopters Rim Fire Blackhawk helicopters Rim Fire Blackhawk helicopters Rim Fire Blackhawk helicopters Rim Fire

Military aircraft on the Black Forest Fire

The military has been supplying numerous photos and some videos of their firefighting activities on the Black Forest Fire. Helicopters from the Colorado National Guard and Fort Carson as well as C-130 MAFFS air tankers are assisting firefighters on the ground. Here are one photo of aircraft taken on June 12 by military personnel. The DC-10 is not military, but is working under a contract with the U. S. Forest Service. Other photos of the military aircraft are on Wildfire Today.

Blackhawk
Blackhawk, June 12, 2013, Photo by Air Force Capt. Darin Overstreet

Air Force Academy: Forward Area Refueling Point

firefighting military helicopters
First Lt. Alicia Tigges, the officer in command of Echo Company 2-4, General Support Aviation Battalion/Distribution Platoon from Fort Carson Army Base, talks to a crew member from the National Guard Black Hawk helicopter at the Forward Area Refueling Point on the U.S. Air Force Academy Airfield in Colorado Springs, Colo. Chinook and Black Hawk helicopters are fighting forest fires in the Black Forest area, just north of Colorado Springs, Colo., June 12, 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ray McCoy/”Released”)

The Air Force Academy near Colorado Springs is being used as a forward refueling point for the military helicopters working on the Black Forest Fire on the outskirts of the city. The helicopters being used are Chinooks, Lakotas, and Black Hawks.

firefighting military helicopters
Echo Company 2-4, General Support Aviation Battalion/Distribution Platoon from Fort Carson Army Base, set up a forward area refueling point at the U.S. Air Force Academy Airfield in Colorado Springs, Colo. Chinook and Black Hawk helicopters are fighting forest fires in the Black Forest area, just north of Colorado Springs, Colo., June 12, 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ray McCoy/”Released”)
firefighting military helicopters
A Lakota helicopter fighting forest fires in the Black Forest area, just north of Colorado Springs, Colo., approaches the Forward Area Refueling Point set up by Echo Company 2-4, General Support Aviation Battalion/Distribution Platoon from Fort Carson Army Base at the U.S. Air Force Academy Airfield in Colorado Springs, Colo. The helicopter is assisting in the fight of forest fires in the Black Forest area just north of Colorado Springs, Colo., June 12, 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ray McCoy/”Released”)
firefighting military helicopters
A Black Hawk helicopter fighting forest fires in the Black Forest area, just north of Colorado Springs, Colo., approaches a Forward Area Refueling Point set up by Echo Company 2-4, General Support Aviation Battalion/Distribution Platoon from Fort Carson Army Base at the U.S. Air Force Academy Airfield in Colorado Springs, Colo., June 12, 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ray McCoy/”Released”)
firefighting helicopters
A Black Hawk helicopter from the National Guard fighting forest fires in the Black Forest area, just north of Colorado Springs, Colo., departs the Forward Area Refueling Point set up by Echo Company 2-4, General Support Aviation Battalion/Distribution Platoon from Fort Carson Army Base set up at the U.S. Air Force Academy Airfield in Colorado Springs, Colo., June 12, 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ray McCoy/”Released”)

Collapsible belly tank for a Blackhawk

RECOIL Blackhawk fire suppression tank

The 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Bill passed by the Senate included an earmark of $4,160,00 for fixed belly tanks for National Guard Blackhawk helicopters. It was referred to as the Recoil UH-60 Blackhawk Helicopter R60 Wildland Fire-Fighting Tank System. When we covered that on October 7, 2009 at Wildfire Today that is all we knew about the project. But a little more information has emerged. It appears that the tank in these photos may be what was funded in the legislation passed by the Senate.

RECOIL Blackhawk fire suplpression tank

The photos are from the web site of SHG, a company in Israel that deals in fire suppression equipment. They represent the manufacturer of the tanks, Recoil Suppression Systems, in Merlin, Oregon. SHG also represents Caylym, the outfit that is trying to sell the boxes that when filled with water or retardant would be dumped out of the back of a C-130 or other cargo plane, hopefully slowing the spread of a wildfire.

SHG describes the Blackhawk tank:

A circular-framed retractable suppressant tank that attaches to the airframe at the cargo hook point. The electric operating mechanism is located within the helicopter itself, to operate by crew members. In addition, the system has a security mechanism for a rapid emptying in case of an emergency. The system is approved for use in urban areas. The tank volume is 3,800 liters [1,000 US gallons], and can contain all kinds of water – fresh, brackish and salty water.

Messages we left with Recoil Suppression Systems asking for information were not immediately returned, and we were not able to find a web site for the company. Dunn and Bradstreet says the company has annual sales of $950,000 and has 17 employees. But we have no confirmation that any of the tanks were ever produced and sold.

At least one other company is working on a Blackhawk belly tank, Simplex.

Simplex Blackhawk belly tank
Simplex Blackhawk belly tank. Simplex photo