Above: Heli-Rappellers at Salmon, Idaho just after they were transported back to the base by a helicopter after supporting the Comet Fire. L to R: Chris Lilley, Jacob Edluna, and Matt Knott.
Thursday we stopped by the U.S. Forest Service Helibase at the airport at Salmon, Idaho. Some of the 19 USFS personnel assigned to the base were supporting the 367-acre Comet Fire 12 miles north of the airport.
Eric Ellis, the Base Manager who was kind enough to show us around, said they saw the lighting strike that ignited the fire on July 26. Later four firefighters from the base rappelled into the steep terrain. The helibase crew also helped to facilitate helicopter water bucket work and sling loads of equipment.
At the base on Thursday was one 205++ helicopter and one K-MAX helicopter. A second 205++ and a Sikorsky were away working on fires.
Salmon is the home of the largest of the USFS rappel bases. They have two 205++ helicopters assigned that are each staffed seven days a week. The USFS is the only federal land management agency that has wildland firefighters who rappel into fires. The National Park Service has quite a few helitack personnel trained for short haul, the technique of transporting one or more people at the end of a rope attached to a helicopter, but without sliding down the rope.
An hour or so after we photographed the K-MAX helicopter at the base, we saw the same ship dropping water on the Comet Fire.
The two Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) rappel firefighting crews at Ovens in Victoria, Australia undertook currency activities yesterday. They are part of the long-running Victorian rappel program which consists of two eight-member crews at both Ovens and Heyfield.
Rappel crews enable DELWP to rapidly access fires in the remote forest areas of Victoria where there are generally no clearings to land helicopters and road access takes many hours (if tracks exist at all).
For this reason, the rappel crews are used as first attack on bushfires.
As you can see in this clip, each firefighter individually abseils (or rappels) down a rope from a helicopter with a personal kit before a bag of firefighting equipment (hand tools such as rakehoes) is deployed.
“The Blue Mountain Rappel Crew is a 14-18 person crew of aerially delivered wildland firefighters. We host a Bell 205A++ Helicopter that can deliver 4 rappellers to remote areas anywhere in the nation that has the need. Formerly the Frazier Rappel Crew, the Blue Mountain Rappel Crew has recently moved locations from Ukiah OR, to La Grande OR in 2012. The Base is located at the La Grande airport near the Blue Mountain Interagency Fire Center and the Union and La Grande IHC fire shops. The Base organization consist of a Base Manager, two Assistant Foremen, Two Squadleaders and Two permanent Senior Firefighters in addition to 6 to 10 seasonals. Since 1997 the crew has been delivering firefighters via ropes and helicopters to incidents around the country. As a National fire resource, we respond locally to Initial Attack in North East Oregon as well as mobilize to large fire support and Initial Attack in the lower 48 and Alaska.”
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.”
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.
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”.