Comparisons of proposals for Colorado aerial resources

Recently there have been two proposals for enhancing the aerial firefighting capability in the state of Colorado. A bill has been introduced with very specific requirements for aircraft, and the new but unfunded state agency, Colorado Firefighting Air Corp (CFAC), issued a report with different recommendations.

On March 21 two state senators, Morgan Carroll and Steve King, introduced Senate Bill 164 that would authorize the CFAC to acquire helicopters and air tankers for the agency.

And a long awaited report required by the Colorado legislature with options for aerial firefighting in the state was released March 28 by the CFAC.

As you can see below in the table that we put together, the two proposals are very different.

Comparisons of Colorado aerial resources proposals

One of the unusual features of the proposed legislation is the requirement that the large air tankers be capable of night operations. As far as we know, no wildland firefighting agency in the world has routinely conducted fixed wing retardant drops at night. Dropping retardant at 150 miles per hour at 100 to 150 feet above the ground in mountainous terrain with turbulent wind conditions is very difficult in daylight conditions. The proposal by the state senators to attempt to do it at night would be a huge leap above and beyond the current norm.

We asked Senator King, who has been very active in recent months about acquiring better aerial firefighting capacity for Colorado, for his impression of the recommendations in the CFAC report that came out seven days after his bill was introduced. He said he is willing to modify his bill:

[The CFAC proposal] reiterates that the state of Colorado desperately needs aerial resources to increase our rapid-response capabilities and the effectiveness of firefighters on the ground. While SB14-164 has been criticized for being too prescriptive, we needed a jumping-off point and myself and President Carroll would be more than willing to incorporate Director Cooke’s recommendations into the bill.


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9 thoughts on “Comparisons of proposals for Colorado aerial resources”

  1. On the Carrol/King bill, you have the totally mis-informed and (IMO) ridiculous notion of night drops (huh?!), and on the CFAC-report side you have two “multi-use” fixed-wing rapid-response AC with very onerous technology that admittedly is new: “machine-to-machine tools incorporated in the state’s information management system” for dispatching & placement of retardant requests, real-time mapping and continued monitoring of effectiveness of each retardant drop, etc., at the expected initial cost of $10M plus $1.7M for ops/maint/training plus $100K for the WIMS licensing/training…no mention of the all-important integration & deployment [].

    IMO, this goes way beyond the “two spotter planes to detect fires within an hour after the first sighting of smoke” that Paul Cooke, Director CO-DFPS, stumped before the state Senate on Wednesday [].

    The total FY2014 (July+) funding request in the report was $33.6M. On Thursday, the Senate budget-debaters initially approved an amended $21M (not clear what exactly elements this covers), with the funds to come from TABOR, emergency reserves and delays to paying back some cash funds (I don’t have details) []. We’ll see what the Joint Budget Committee coughs up in a month or so, or what will ultimately be deployed this fire-season, and when.

  2. The plan is to get the funding and tweak the program to fit the needs. One way to tweak it would be to get rid of the silly “Command and Control Functions” helicopter that Sen. King is marketing for his own agenda and replace it with a firefighting helicopter that actually performs an IA function.
    The State needs an aerial response fleet but more thought needs to be given on the resources they are wish listing IMO.
    First step is remove the politicians from the “thought process”. They can’t run the State how are they going to take on Wildland Fire Fighting?

    1. Thanks, Bill. Do you think the “early detection” function is as important as the media has stressed – as it relates to C-FAC? (re. High Park and South Fork Complex). Maybe Colorado should take some of that $12M appropriation and re-staff some lookout sites.

      BTW, heard you on CPR/Colorado Matters … good job!

      1. The report from CFAC talks about using fixed wing aircraft for early detection of fires. Having one or more detection aircraft in the air constantly to cover a state is not practical. However using them to patrol for a day or two after a lightning storm could be a good investment. Many agencies, of course, commonly use them to detect lightning-caused fires. The report also mentions dispatching the fixed wing aircraft upon the first report of a fire in order to gather intelligence about the location, and to map it using infrared equipment. That would have been extremely helpful for the 2012 Waldo Canyon fire which the USFS had difficulty locating. In the next few days it burned into Colorado Springs where it killed two residents and burned 347 homes.

        And thanks for your comment about the interview on Colorado Public Radio.

  3. Command and control functions helicopter????

    CO ought to be thinking THE BASIC IA ship to keep things small……

    That wonderful idea of a command and control helicopter ( depending on Type and capability) has now reduced folks by one additional bucket ship…..

    I venture to say most IA contracted PART 135 drivers can function quite effectively without the need of a “Command and Control” helicopter…….

    If REAL IA and keeping fires small is a NOVEL idea…….ATGS, ASM, and whatever are not even needed. Plenty o drivers have done some excellent work w/o “Command and Control.”

    There IS a bill of goods being sold………

    1. You’re right Leo, if Colorado only gets 4 helos, they should all be IA capable.

      The CFAC report is a good read. It doesn’t recommend a C2 helo.
      I’d be willing to bet the senate bill gets amended before/if it gets approved.

  4. Spot on Leo. 4 (or better yet 6) well placed IA ships will go a long way towards thwarting starts from becoming incidents.
    We provided IA in MT and OR on a few occasions with a Medium and it proved to be very effective at stopping single tree starts and small brush fires in their tracks. We covered a 200 mile radius area in TX one year with one Medium and every call was stopped at one day. Sometimes it helps to launch and not procrastinate.
    Command and Control fancy helicopters may look cool but CO needs suppression coverage more than TV coverage.

  5. Also seems to be a bit of overkill for the new State Air Force to go out and purchase any aircraft until they iron out all the wrinkles. Plenty of aircraft contractors out there.
    My guess is the State will only harm the program if they try to own and operate aircraft. They will micro manage the show to the point of breaking the bank as do most Government Ops.

  6. Who makes up the CFAC, law enforcement and politicians? Lots of experience “tune-in” to this web site. If a new evolving fire can be stopped it won’t be contained by a command and control helicopter or a fixed wing detection plane. Put your (Co.) in initial attack water/retardant drops and you won’t need those other resources. Helicopter and fixed wing fire pilots can give you (who ever you are?) a good idea (called size-up) of what is burning and potential. Put the wet stuff on the red stuff in a hurry! Hate that saying.

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