Forest Service launches short-haul program

short-haul training
USFS helitack personnel receive training in the short-haul program, during the week of May 18-22 in Missoula. USFS photo by Lane Lamoreaux.

This year the U.S. Forest Service is launching a short-haul program, which involves transporting personnel suspended beneath a helicopter. While the National Park Service and other federal and local agencies have been using the tactic for years to insert firefighters and rescue personnel and to extract people with injuries, firefighters in the USFS have not been authorized or trained in the technique. However short-haul operations have been conducted in the Forest Service for a number of years for law enforcement missions.

About 20 people from two USFS helitack crews went through short-haul training last week in Missoula.

The USFS plans to only use short-haul when someone has a “life and/or a loss of limb threatening injury or other medical complications that warrant prompt extraction”, or if a conventional rescue operation would expose rescue personnel or patients to a higher degree of risk. The agency is calling it the “Emergency Medical Short-haul Program” in their Emergency Medical Short-haul Operations Plan (6.5 MB).

short-haul training
USFS helitack personnel receive training in the short-haul program, during the week of May 18-22 in Missoula. USFS photo by Lane Lamoreaux.

The USFS will only use Type 3, or “light”, helicopters for these missions, such as a Bell-206B-III, Lama, MD-500, or AS-355.

Typically one or two medically qualified personnel would first be inserted who may initially treat or stabilize the victim, and then they will package the patient so that they can be extracted via a line that could be 250 feet long. They are then transported to the next level of medical care.

“In the past, the U.S. Forest Service has used contractors, cooperators, and the military to provide emergency medical short-haul capability,” said Seth Weber, National Short-Haul Specialist with the U.S. Forest Service who was an instructor last week.  “The agency is developing its own program to ensure that services are available when needed.”

The USFS will begin the program this year using two existing agency helitack crews, Teton Interagency Helitack from the Bridger-Teton NF in Wyoming and Wenatchee Helitack from the Okanogan-Wenatchee NF in Washington.

Short-haul qualified helitack crews will not be exclusively short-haul; their primary mission will continue to be support of fire management operations, but if needed they could be diverted to a short-haul incident. During fire season, the helicopters and helitack crews will likely be moved to locations experiencing a high amount of wildfire activity where they can be used to conduct both types of missions.

short-haul training
USFS helitack personnel receive training in the short-haul program, during the week of May 18-22 in Missoula. USFS photo by Lane Lamoreaux.

9 thoughts on “Forest Service launches short-haul program”

      1. Yep, but the B3/B3e (AS-350, now going to be the H-125 after Airbus bought out Eurocopter) will be the one used. Much higher performance, especially in high/hot conditions, than other type 3’s that the agencies use

  1. I was in the first group to be trained with Cal Fire. What are the blue “bags used for, dropping water? (first picture)

  2. The Blue bag is the “Metolius Quarter Dome” used as a medical/personal gear bag as outlined in the Forest Service Short Haul Operations Plan Section 3.8.

  3. This is the kind of job most people don’t even know these people are out there, until they are needed. I’m sure their courage, knowledge and professionalism is approached by all the others fighting the fire. Thanks for being there you are appreciated!!!!!

  4. Cool new venture – should work well. The rappel program in British Columbia has been routinely extracting its personnel from remote fireline locations by external helicopter hoist for over twenty years now. All staff are certified in hoist operations from B212 and B412 platforms. The 412s and some hoist techs also work fires in NSW in the southern summer.
    The BC crews also provide a service to extract injured civilian people if requested, but firefighting operations make up almost all hoist operations, and non-FS medical extractions are becoming increasingly rare.

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