On Tuesday while at the HAI Heli-Expo in Atlanta, I met Tom Short, a Senior Pilot with the Los Angeles County Fire Department. I found him at the large Sikorsky display talking with their representatives about technical issues. Thankfully he was able to carve out some time from his schedule to talk with me.
The agency does not have a Chief Pilot; instead they have three Senior Pilots. The most senior in terms of longevity is Tom Short, who has 14,000 hours of helicopter flight time.
Number of helicopters
The fire department has ten helicopters.
The ships are used for a wide variety of missions: wildfire suppression, hoisting victims, short-haul, medical transport, swift-water rescue, large animal rescue, transporting firefighters, high-rise rescue, ocean rescue, and command and control.
Five of the ten helicopters are Bell 412 ships. Three are the EP model and two are HP.
The other five are Firehawks. Two of those, S-70i models, were received in December, 2017 and are still in the process of being converted.
Converting Blackhawk to Firehawk
The primary tasks to convert a Blackhawk into a Los Angeles County FD Firehawk are to extend the main landing gear in order to install a 1,000-gallon belly tank. The helicopters also have a 30-gallon tank that carries Class A foam concentrate which can be mixed into the main water tank. They also receive hoists, Nite Sun searchlights, and an assortment of radios.
The department began using retractable snorkels in 2001. The collapsable large-diameter hose flattens when rolled onto a spool. There are two major advantages of the retractable snorkel: the aircraft can taxi (without dragging the hose and pump on the ground) and there is no artificial speed restriction (you don’t have to worry about the hose and pump banging against the helicopter in flight).
The snorkel hoses have an electric water pump at the lower end that pumps water up the hose and into the belly tank, filling it in about a minute.
Adding more Firehawks
The department has a plan to get five more Firehawks, but there is no funding for the acquisition.
Their first Firehawk
The department operated a Firehawk for the first time in 1998 when for four months they leased a Blackhawk with a belly tank from Sikorsky.
Single pilot certification
The Los Angeles County Fire Department is the only organization certified by Sikorsky to operate Blackhawks with a single pilot.
For years the department has contracted for two CL-215 or CL-415 scooper air tankers and one Air-Crane helicopter during the busiest part of the wildfire season.
All of the department’s Firehawks are equipped for night-flying after they are fully modified.
Los Angeles County has a population of over 10 million and encompasses 4,000 square miles. The County Fire Department has 163 fire stations.
— Good Day LA (@GDLA) February 9, 2018