12 Questions for Tony Duprey

Tony Duprey

This is the fifth in a new series of articles on FireAviation.com featuring aerial firefighters answering 12 questions about their profession. We hope to get participation from senior pilots, as well as Air Operations Branch Directors, Air Tactical Group Supervisors, and others that have worked closely with fire aviation. Our objective is to not only provide our readers with interesting articles, but these very experienced aerial firefighters may also reveal a few gems of information that could prove to be valuable to those considering or just beginning a career in fire aviation. If you have a suggestion of someone who would be a good candidate for these questions, drop us a line through our Contact Us page. And their contact information would be appreciated.

Today we hear from Tony Duprey, who presently is a Chief Officer with the Chumash Tribal Fire Department. He works as a call when needed ATGS / ATS (ASM ATGS), HLCO for Federal incident management teams. When he retired from the U.S. Forest Service in 2005 he was a Battalion Chief on the Los Padres National Forest in California, and was on a California incident management team as an Air Attack Group Supervisor.


Tony Duprey
Tony Duprey

Who is one of the more memorable aerial firefighters you have known? And why?
“Smokey Val”, Frank Smokey Vallesillo.. USFS Air Attack Hemet Tanker Base. Smokey was one of the first “Air Attacks” I became aware of when I was a young squad boss on the Los Prietos Hotshots. I distinctly remember our superintendent, Mark Linane, telling me, “Smokey is one of the few air attacks you can trust”. Down the road, Smokey became a mentor to me as a young air attack.

Other memorable names that molded my early ATGS years – Walter “P” Johnson, Jan Reifenberg, Steve Maxwell, Greg Hock, Peter Bell, Teddy Mundell, Ray Skeels, Rich “Doc” Watson, Jim Leslie, Gary Hardy, Jim Chestnut, Ray Sauceda, Kenny Duvall, Mike Lynn.

I cannot say enough good things about Sheryl Porter Woods. She is the only reason I succeeded as the Santa Barbara Tanker Base Manager. Extremely memorable experiences working with her at Santa Barbara!!

One piece of advice you would give to someone before their first assignment working on a fire?
Adhere to your training; remember the basics, as there is no such thing as advanced firefighting, stay ever mindful to keep your SA up. Watch and re watch the BLM fire refreshers in which Dr. Ted Putnam is interviewed.

Besides the obvious (funding), what is the number one thing government Fire and Aviation should focus on?
Communication between Fire and Aviation at all levels. Active Listening.

One suggestion you have for ground-based firefighters about fire suppression tactics, or working with aircraft?
The Aerial resources may seem to have the best seat in the house, but their field of focus can be extremely narrow.

One thing that you know now that you wish you had known early in your career?
Aerial firefighters are just that … brother and sister aerial firefighters. Too many government employees at all levels view tanker and helicopter pilots as just contractors. They are brother and sister aerial firefighters.

Which two aircraft manufactured within the last 20 years would make the best air tankers?
Purpose built CL-415’s. When water is close, they are hard to beat. Why they are not used more in the western US is beyond me. The question asks “air tankers” but one cannot ignore the fact that the Erickson S-64 Sky Crane is the ground firefighter “weapon of choice”.

That being said, the P-3 Orion was a Cadillac. I have worked with the DC-10 and am impressed with its capabilities. It is an extremely effective initial as well as extended attack tool. I have worked with the BAE-146 that was on a provisional contract last year and see the drop system improving. The pilots tell me that the platform is fantastic for the role. I am looking forward to seeing the other companies “next gen” BAE’s, RJ’s and others. Hopefully the contracts are let soon.

List the aircraft you have flown, or flown in, on fires. Which is your favorite, and why?

  • ATGS – Shrike Commander, Turbine Commander, Cessna 421, Cessna 340, Cessna Skymaster, Beechcraft King Air, Bell 209 Cobra, OV-10
  • ASM – Beechcraft King Air
  • HLCO / Intelligence – Bell 206, Hughs 500, Bell 209 FireWatch Cobra, Bell 204, Bell 212
  • Ferry flights – Bell 206, Bell 204, Bell 212, Bell 214, Aerospatiale Puma / Super Puma, Lama, Allouette, Sikorsky Blackhawk (military operated), Sikorsky S-58T

Favorite aircraft –

  • ATGS and ASM- Beechcraft King Air… Because – Twin engine TURBOPROP, reliability, single engine performance, load capability (trainee’s etc) and support by current manufacturer
  • HLCO / Intelligence – Bell 209 FireWatch Cobra – Because – performance, visibility, contractor and industry support

Air tankers – Authorized – Flew in the DC-10 as an observer on drops.

Unauthorized – flew in the P3, C-130, DC4, P2V, SP2H as a young air attack as an observer on drops.

The funniest thing you have seen in aerial firefighting?
When I was on the hotshots in the late ‘70’s, we were on a fire on the Sequoia NF and one of the crewpersons on the crew found a horny toad while we were constructing fire line. We were flown off the fire at the end of a few days of spiking out from a helispot in a Sikorsky-S-58T. On the first load to be flown out was the crewperson (he went on to become a smokejumper and lead plane pilot) who had adopted the horny toad. After the helicopter lifted and had gained about 200 feet, a horny toad supported by a red bandana and parachute cord fashioned into a parachute and harness, appeared underneath the S-58T. No streamers appeared first, and the “jumper” missed the LZ (helispot) by about 50 feet landing in a draw below the helispot. When we rescued the jumper horny toad we discovered him hung up in a Manzanita bush without a letdown rope. We cut him free and he eventually was released back into the wild after he made the journey back to our home base with us.

How many hours have you spent in firefighting aircraft?
Too many yet not enough! As an aerial supervisor in excess of 3,000… and that is probably low…

Your favorite books about fire, firefighting, or aerial firefighting?

The first job you had in aerial firefighting?
Assistant Helishot Foreman on the San Marcos Helishots, H-528, CA-LPF in 1978.

What gadgets, electronic or other type, can’t you live without?
I love my iPhone, my iPad mini, my Mac Air, my Garman 496, my Kindle, but I can’t live without my fishing gadgets.

4 thoughts on “12 Questions for Tony Duprey”

    1. We had fun, I sure miss the days working with Tony at the Santa Barbara Air Attack Base. It was a time in my life that I will never forget.

  1. Good job Tony, you sure mentioned a lot of old friends. Some of them still in the game, others that we miss every fire season.

  2. Great job Tony.
    Of the many Agency folks that I have flown with over the years, you were always the one who put the most thought into how will this decision in the air, affect those folks on the ground. Your personal contributions and sacrifices toward inter agency fire training and research is laudable. I am proud to have been on your crew.
    Ray Skeels, pilot, AA01, 07, 15, 12.

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