Interview with Shem Hawkins, BC at Chico Air Attack Base

One S2T air tanker and an Air Attack ship are stationed at the airport

BC Shem Hawkins
Battalion Chief Shem Hawkins. Screengrab from video below.

Action News Now interviewed Shem Hawkins, the CAL FIRE Battalion Chief at the Chico Air Attack Base. One S2T air tanker and an Air Attack ship are stationed at the airport.

CAL FIRE is in the process of replacing their aging fleet of 12 Super Huey helicopters with new Sikorsky S-70i Firehawks from United Rotorcraft.

The interviewer misquoted Chief Hawkins in one respect. CAL FIRE is getting seven HC-130H aircraft which will be converted to air tankers, but they are 31 to 35 years old — not “brand new”. The U.S. Coast Guard gave them to the U.S. Forest Service, but the FS quickly changed their mind before the conversions to air tankers were complete, and regifted them to CAL FIRE. Much work still needs to be done to perform heavy maintenance on the ships and install retardant delivery systems.

Chief Hawkins’ fire career began as a volunteer  firefighter at Magalia, CA in 1992. After being hired at CAL FIRE, he served as a Firefighter, Paramedic, Engineer, Fire Captain, and Field Battalion Chief. His father is John Hawkins who retired in December as the CAL FIRE/Riverside County Fire Chief.

9 thoughts on “Interview with Shem Hawkins, BC at Chico Air Attack Base”

  1. im wondering if the BC was working the day of the camp fires start,must have been a strain,and yes i know firefighters home burn yearly white ff is working,and sometimes on the same that takes the home

  2. Any chance the CalFire guys in Chico may actually use the Fire Bosses sitting there this year? Might have saved a bunch of houses and a few lives in the Camp Fire last year…damn shame the old “we don’t use single engine argument” is what they hid behind…

    1. Dear Sir,
      Please remember that winds were so intense during those initial hours that aircraft were not able to fly. By the time the winds subsided, the lives and property had already been lost.

      1. Battalion14 – Agreed that the winds were too intense until about 1pm the first day, when CalFire aircraft were able to get up and fly again. At that point in time, just 8 hours after the fire started, the three Fire Bosses located within minutes of the fire, could have helped…with Lake Oroville right there, one Fire Boss could dump as much or more as a DC-10 in one hour.

    2. No. They don’t meet Cal Fire specs are are not certified to fly fires this side of the Sierras. They wouldn’t have been able to fly the early part of the Camp fire and the AirSpray boss that was grandstanding knows that.

      1. Silk Road Dog,

        Where are you getting your information on the Fire Bosses not being certified to fly in California and where are you getting your information on that they do not meet Cal Fire Specs? The Fire Bosses are Type 3 Air tankers which means that they must meet Interagency Air Tanker Board Standards and must have IAB approval to fly on federal fires. To my knowledge Cal Fire acknowledges IAB approved cooperator aircraft and uses them regularly on their fires. e.g. the FS LATs and VLATs. Also to my knowledge AirSpray does in fact have a Call When Needed contract with Cal Fire to provide Single Engine Air Tankers. BLM has had SEATs at the Chester Tanker base the last few years and those aircraft have worked Cal Fire incidents. In 2013 and 2016 there were SEATs that worked out of Fresno Tanker Base for a few weeks, again those aircraft were used on Cal Fire incidents. Saying that they can’t fly on Cal Fire incidents is very incorrect.

        An Federally qualified Air Tanker Base Manager and SEAT Manager

        1. SEATs are good aircraft but like any tool have their place. In a firefight, the tools used are selected for specific objectives. It is not taking whatever is available and throwing it against the wall to see what will stick. CAL FIRE as an agency has moved away from single engine aircraft – airtankers were years ago and more recently they’ve started the process to convert their helicopters. Mechanical issues happen. Second engines can allow the pilot the capability to get back to base. CAL Fire experienced that when C101 lost its engine while returning to Howard Forest, and the pilot was able to auto-rotate down to save the crew. Had that accident occurred over the rugged Mendocino mountains, all of them could have been lost. Fixed wing have a smaller margin of error. When they lose their engine low level, they will hit the ground in that general vicinity, and hit hard. AirSpray lost a FireBoss last year, thankfully it was not over firefighters and the pilot survived.
          IAB does not make CAL FIRE policy. In California we are blessed with an abundance of contractors that can provide an a lot of capable aircraft. Blackhawks, CH47’s and SkyCranes can deliver more water, from closer water sources (stock ponds, rivers, small lakes), at a slower and more precise drop profile. Their drawback, they require more fuel, but in California we are blessed with a lot of airports servicing JetA. That is not the case in the Great Basin, Alaska and the other geographic areas where the FireBoss shines and can fly for hours sipping fuel in more open terrain.
          One of the tragic results of catastrophic fires are the assertions that one contractor could have made the “difference”. Nothing a FireBoss could bring to the table would have made a difference the day of the Camp Fire and it is disingenuous to assert otherwise.

  3. maybe on load time alone,but chico airport is 2 air miles closer to the fire then lake oroville is.

    1. btw,that measurement was from the center of the runway and the center of the lake to my uncles home (lost in the fire),which is just about dead center of paradise

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