LA Fire Department intends to use drones

Above: A drone was tested at Homestead National Historic Site April 22, 2016 to determine the feasibility of using it to ignite a prescribed fire. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The Los Angeles Fire Department is seeking approval to use drones to provide additional situational awareness for firefighters. They will be following in the footsteps of the Austin and New York City Fire Departments that have been operating drones for a while.

According to SPCR.org:

The main reason is to increase firefighter safety. And some good examples might be, a long duration structure fire. By long duration I mean 30 minutes or longer. We could put up a UAV in the air and then have the image transmitted down to the command post, down in the street. The incident commander can then determine whether or not we should deploy firefighters to ventilate the roof. That’s a good example of how they would enhance firefighter safety.

The Department’s next step is to obtain approval from the Public Safety Committee, the City Council, and eventually the Federal Aviation Administration. They are optimistically hoping to have all the permissions by August, 2017.

L.A. City Council questions why maintenance issues prevented two helicopters from responding to a wildfire

LA CITY HELICOPTERS
A Los Angeles City Fire Department AW139 sits atop LAPD’s Hooper Heliport, still recognized today as the busiest heliport in the world. Photo by Ryan Mason.

This article first appeared at Heliweb.com. It is used here with permission.

By Ryan Mason

Councilors from the Los Angeles City Council have demanded answers from the city’s general services department that is responsible for maintenance of both the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) A-Star fleet and the city’s fleet of Leonardo AW139’s and Bell 412 helicopters, giving administrators a two week deadline to outline why the backlog of maintenance occurred and to also detail any backlogs that exist regarding the fleets of the LAPD and Department of Water and Power for comparison.

Los Angeles City Fire is scheduled to receive another Aw139 in the coming months as the department cycles out the remainder of Bell 412 helicopters operated by the fire department for the much larger AW139 that is fitted with a belly tank for firefighting duties. the LAFD recently donated one of the departments Bell 412 helicopters to the LAPD to use for speacialty training and deployment that will likely fill the gap left when the department pulled their last remaining UH-1H from service several years ago.

The general services department released a statement late last week reaffirming their commitment to ensuring that all LAFD helicopters were returned to service as quickly as possible and that all backlogs would also be cleared as soon as they could be completed.

Air resources assisting crews working San Diego-area Gate Fire

Air resources continued to play a major role in containing the Gate Fire burning in San Diego County since Saturday.

The fire grew to 1,500 acres by Sunday morning, though crews made progress overnight, aided by cooler temperatures and higher humidity levels, Cal Fire reported. No structures have been damaged, and no injuries were reported.

Five airtankers and three helicopters were making drops on fire at one point Saturday, said Cal Fire Capt. Isaac Sanchez, according to the San Diego Union Tribune newspaper. Fire crews from several agencies were helping on the ground.

Evacuation orders lasted into Sunday.

Sheriff and Fire Departments in Orange County feud over helicopter responses

Above: file photo of firefighter with Orange County Fire Authority helicopter. OCFA photo.

In an air battle over the responsibility for helicopter rescues in Orange County, California the losers are the taxpayers and accident victims.

Historically the County Sheriff’s Department air fleet has taken the lead for searches, while the Orange County Fire Authority has handled rescues. Recently, however, the Sheriff has been poaching responses to rescues resulting in multiple helicopters appearing over the same incident potentially causing airspace conflicts and confusion.

According to the Orange County Register it happened twice on April 29, with the Sheriff’s helicopter being told repeatedly by the Incident Commander they were not requested and then ignoring orders to “stand down”.

Below is an excerpt from their article:

…Recordings from radio chatter on Saturday show sheriff pilots ignoring direct orders from local commanders.

In Orange, the commander on the ground told the sheriff pilot, “You will abide by what the ground (Incident Commander) is asking you to do.”

The sheriff helicopter completed the medical assistance call anyway.

“My concern is if you have four aircraft in the air, and the sheriff refuses to communicate, who will get hurt if there is an air accident?” said Orange City Fire Dept. Deputy Chief Robert Stefano.

In Laguna Beach, where an intoxicated 17-year-old was pulled from a beach cove, the commander told the Sheriff’s pilot, “You are not requested.” The Laguna official also declared that the Sheriff’s pilot was creating “an unsafe air operation” by not answering direct orders.

In another recording of the same incident, a Laguna Beach dispatcher told a fire official “It sounds like the sheriffs have gone rogue. They’re not listening to the (Incident Commander).”

It is absurd that emergency management professionals operating very expensive aircraft cannot act like adults and do what is best for the taxpayers, citizens, and accident victims who need the best medical care available administered in a safe environment.

The Orange County Register has a recording of the radio conversations that is astounding.

Air tanker 116 at Redding

The U.S. Forest Service distributed these photos Thursday of air tanker 116 at Redding, California. Normally the aircraft is based at McClellan Air Field in Sacramento, but it ventured north for “aerial firefighter training”.

The agency did not specify if the lawn chairs in the shade are part of the regular equipment inventory on the aircraft.

This plane is one of seven HC-130H’s that are transitioning from the Coast Guard to the USFS. The program has experienced delays but is expected to be complete by the end of this decade.

tanker 116 HC-130H tanker 116 HC-130H

Helicopter drop on the Jameson Fire in California

Above: Helicopter drops on the Jameson Fire in Temescal Valley in California, April 30, 2017. CAL FIRE/Riverside County FD photo.

This is a spectacular photo of a helicopter dropping on the Jameson Fire in southern California’s Temescal Valley, April 30, 2017.

The first arriving engine company reported approximately five acres in a drainage with heavy fuels. The fire was contained at 7:30 PDT on Monday after burning 12.5 acres.

California National Guard helicopter training, 2017

The creation of the “Baseline Skunk Works” and the interaction with private industry led to many advances in helicopter water buckets.

By John Yount

(All photos are from the 2017 helicopter water bucket training, shot by Bob Martinez, a Volunteer in Prevention Photographer with CAL FIRE)

California’s annual Army National Guard helicopter water bucket training took place this year near Sutter Creek, California. National Guard and Air Force helicopters from Mather (Blackhawks), Stockton (Chinooks), and Moffet (Pavehawks) participated in the training over the three-day period. Classroom sessions, water drops, and the inevitable exchange of information among personnel will help facilitate a smooth activation when the aviation assets are needed.

California national guard fire helicopter trainingThere is much more to this story than just an annual training. The interaction of the Military and State of California has spanned over half a century.  This cooperative spirit has been the success of the program. Although the Guard and Air Force Reserve have their own mission agendas it is the history of the Guard and CAL FIRE working together during the wet months that has contributed to a significant enhancement in fire bucket reliability, versatility, and performance.

With the introduction of the CAL FIRE (then CDF) Military Helicopter Manager (MLHM) program in California in the late 1990’s it was deemed  important that a CDF aviation person be assigned to each helicopter during an activation. Flying with the Guard, CAL FIRE personnel work as part of a team providing tactical input, complete logistical support, and coordination with the Guard and CAL FIRE command centers.

California national guard fire helicopter training

Development of new helicopter water bucket technology

At the beginning of the MLHM program it was quickly identified that the rigid 2000 gallon Big Dipper buckets and the special production for the Guard  of a 1140 gallon Bambi Bucket needed to be addressed. The lead CDF person approached CDF management with a plan to initiate an updated program with respect to working with the Guard. One of the four components of the plan was to work on the buckets. A phone call to SEI (Bambi) saw an immediately response. Two SEI representatives, the general manager, and chief engineer came to California to work with CDF and the Stockton Guard to make a change.

The following fire season a new generation 2,000 gallon Bambi Bucket was presented to the CDF and Guard for testing during that fire season that became very active. The 2,000 gallon Bambi bucket was put to the test. From the lava beds of the Modoc National Forest to Southern California in a three week period the redesigned Bambi delivered 1.6 gallons of foam enhanced water flawlessly.  The interaction between the Guard, CDF and Bambi wasn’t just a business model but evolved into a “can do” chemistry that saw the development of many new Bambi products.  The hub for new products was the CDF’s Baseline Helibase/Heliport and Fire Camp near Jamestown, California, unofficially known as the Baseline Skunk Works. The next five years saw the development of numerous fire suppression products for helicopters.

California national guard fire helicopter training

One of the concerns of using the larger 2,000 gallon Bambi Bucket was the inability to pick up a full bucket of water in a source less than five feet deep. A skilled inmate work team of four directed by CDF personnel at Baseline started a Bambi modification of a 324 gallon Bambi with SEI providing a submergible pump.  Intermountain Helicopters of Columbia, California provided the copter that would test this 324 gallon “power fill” Bambi while pumping from a 1,000 gallon pumpkin tank. With SEI on site during testing this was the beginning of the power fill bucket era.

A second Baseline Skunk Tank project was to develop a multi-variable drop valve for the buckets. Two prototypes were made. One was divided into two separate chambers, with each having a small rubber valve allowing the load to be split. It was the Stockton Guard that came to Baseline (about 10 minutes from Stockton) and flew a helicopter with the modified bucket.

The second prototype used compressed air to open and close a carburetor butterfly valve. Again the Stockton Guard provided the Chinook, which is an external/internal cargo hauler. Instead of flying a four ton concrete slab around for external flight training the external load training hours were used to practice and develop new ideas in aerial fire fighting.  With SEI working with the Guard and CDF a clearer picture of understanding the needs of the aerial fire fighting community evolved.  Products like the SEI Torrentula Valve with power fill became part of SEI’s product line. Today ninety percent of the California Guard  Chinook helicopter buckets have been equipped with these valves and pumps.

The concept of a portable water tank of over 10,000 gallons was imagined at the Baseline Skunk Works.  SEI was contacted and liked the idea. Within two months the first Heliwell arrived at Baseline. Although the Guard wasn’t used to dipping from the Heliwell, the “test to destruction” was accomplished by dropping 2,000 gallons of water into the well’s opening from fifty feet. The tank performed as designed, a tribute to SEI engineering and manufacturing.

The next project for the Guard and CDF was how to fill from a small or shallow water source, as many of the water dip sites for helicopters in arid California are less than four feet in depth. A manufacturing company, TMR Fabrications in Merced, California was contacted. The idea was to build an external rectangular tank that could be transported inside a Chinook. The tank needed to be capable of being loaded and unloaded in less than ten minutes The TMR Water Rat Tank was built with input from the CDF Baseline Skunk Works and the Stockton Guard. What evolved was a self-contained 1,800 gallon water tank powered by a twelve horsepower engine driving a snorkel pump at the end of a twelve foot 5 inch hose.  The Water Rat filled to capacity in less than a minute. The “Rats” dump valve could release a partial load or all the water in less than 8 seconds. Once again the Guard flew the tank under a Chinook and was able to use it at no charge.

California national guard fire helicopter trainingOne of the significant features of the Water Rat was the safety of redundant slings, connecting to the Chinooks fore and aft hooks. This was a great safety feature in case of an accidental hook release. This project led to a military self-contained 2,000 gallon internal Chinook water tank that discharges the entire load in less than 8 seconds.

Other projects that came from the Imagineers at the Skunk Works included the Marine Recovery Device (MRD) and  the first Fire Sock initially built by Intermountain Helicopters fabric shop.  A 10 gallon foam concentrate system for the Chinook designed at the Skunk Works and built by SEI came in two models, gravity and pressure demand.

Although this year’s training near Sutter Creek was just part of the preparation for the upcoming 2017 fire season, the relationship between the CAL FIRE and the Guard over the decades have made a significant contribution to helicopter fire fighting products word wide.