In case of fire break glass

The group of four helicopters known as the Quick Reaction Force will be covered on 60 Minutes

12:07 p.m. PDT Sept. 24, 2021

60 Minutes Chinook
60 Minutes reporter Bill Whitaker interviews Chief Brian Fennessy of Orange County Fire Authority. Still image from CBS video.

(Update Sept. 27, 2021: CBS has what looks like the entire transcript of the piece that aired Sunday night.)

Sunday September 26 at 7 p.m. EDT 60 minutes will broadcast a piece about the very large helicopters being used in Southern California this year. They interview Brian Fennessy, Chief of the Orange County Fire Authority about the Quick Reaction Force that has been partially financed with nearly $18 million from Southern California Edison since June 15 this year.

This group of helicopters includes two 3,000-gallon Boeing CH-47D Chinooks based in Los Angeles and Orange Counties, a Sikorsky S-61 with a 1,000-gallon tank in Ventura County, and a Sikorsky S-76 to provide intelligence, evaluate effectiveness of drops, and identify targets with a laser designator. They are all crewed 24/7 and can hover refill with water or retardant at night assisting firefighters whenever they are needed. The helicopters are operated by Coulson Aviation and have either internal or belly tanks.

On August 18 they were dispatched to assist on the Caldor Fire, working out of Amador County Airport, also known as Westover Field.

Chief Fennessy believes in prompt, aggressive, initial attack of fires.

Reporter Bill Whitaker said to the Chief, “If somebody calls 911 you hit it with everything you’ve got. You knock it out.”

“In case of fire break glass!” the chief replied.

This is not the first time a privately owned Chinook has been used in California. In 2020 one operated by Coulson Aviation worked under an 83-day 24/7 contract in collaboration with Southern California Edison (SCE) and the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA). Other Chinook operators used on fires that do not fly at night include the California National Guard, Billings Flying Service, Helimax, and Columbia.

The video below is a preview of the Sunday program.

Below is an excerpt from a CBS article about the helicopters:

“[Chief Fennessy said] the ability to lay retardant line, to continue to drop fire retardant after sundown, that’s a first,” he tells Whitaker. And there’s an added advantage: the fires usually die down at night because of decreased wind and increased humidity.

Wayne Coulson, the CEO of Coulson Aviation, is a pioneer in night firefighting. His company built the fleet with its specially designed tanks that carry either water or retardant. Computers control the tank’s doors, opening and closing at precise GPS locations.

“We can fly the aircraft to those GPS points and the doors will automatically open and close between those points,” Coulson says.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Al.

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7 thoughts on “In case of fire break glass”

  1. How does Coulson get an ad like this on 60 Minutes? Brilliant…Question for the Chief…what would be safer, starting to do the same thing at first light or at the end of the day into dark? “That would be a first…”

  2. The reason the FS could never pull something like this off is because Fire answers to “Line Officers” that are basically clueless figureheads with no fire experience. These folks have a clear mission…put out fire! The FS has a murky mission shrouded in land management gobbildy gook and nebulous objectives. Good on you SoCal, this is how it should be done.

  3. What this author fails to share in this sharing of the COMPLETE 60 Minutes Story is CalFire and The USFS refused to work with the OCFA Chief, and since when does the Fire Chief of one of the largest Dept’s in the State respond to a Wildland Conflagration and remains there on scene?
    Watch the complete 60 Minutes!!!
    What the Hades is wrong with The Fire Service in California, with the USFS, and as matter of fact — in the USA West of the Mississippi???
    And once again…
    Why an issue of National Security (well at least the security of 1/3–1/2 of the USA) is left to commercial aircraft operations and not a Federal Air Firefighting Force???
    How many years will Federal and a couple of State organizations keep Failing to stop the spreading of Wildland Conflagrations which consume whole towns while using a typical government low bid system???

    1. Brian:
      I will take a stab at your questions.
      Cal-Fire, who can play well with others in many aspects, doesn’t always play well with others in many aspects.
      And with all due respect to Cal-Fire, it does a heck of lot but that “lot” takes money. As far as fire aviation is concerned, on incidents why not pass that cost onto the Feds with disaster declarations?

      The USFS is much like Cal-Fire as related above and, it too, needs a lot of money to do what it is supposed to do in both suppression and prevention. Unfortunately, there is no report card and no accountability when either do not do such a good job (see consume whole towns). A Federal Grand Jury review of Cal-Fire would be nice but who could we get to do a Grand Jury investigation on the USFS? (Hey! I think politics just reared it’s beastly head!)

      As the late Master Craig Halker would say:

      Shift blame and hog glory

      Then when it comes to funding:

      Who’s got the money? Then that is where it’s gonna come from (Politics again).

      Combine those two Halkerisms and you got the situation you have described! If Cal-Fire can get contracted aircraft on SRA fires via the Feds, and have it all paid by the Feds once the gubbermint releases funds for disasters, why the heck not play the game that way?

      Hog glory? Cal-Fire will tell you that they can have fire aircraft anywhere in the State in 20 minutes. Ohh, those Sikorski 1000 gallon copters sure look great. Isn’t it nice that you can get your budget cut and then have Uncle Newsome slide you a cool 300 million for those copters? What they won’t tell you is when all hell is breaking lose up and down the State, fire aircraft are hard to come by. By hey. They are on order! ((Let’s not talk about those orders going unfilled). Cal-Fire C 130’s? Hey! They are coming even though after, what, seven years(?) they ain’t here. But wow! Those two Cal-Fire C-130 birds at HQ sure look cool in Cal-Fire livery! (Never mind those missing retardant systems that are supposed to go in the back).

      Too be sure wildland fire suppression has many paradigms and those paradigms have changed and are changing. If the organization does not change accordingly (does the ostrich), and change the way it does business, it will get left way behind. Whole towns burning? Would that happen to be an indicator of getting left behind?

      What are the respective missions of Cal-Fire and the USFS? Then ask yourself, are they both meeting that mission? Brian: I think your post answers that question.

  4. I first wrote something really long and detailed about why I think this was totally inadequate reporting. The gist of it was that it is pretty much usless and impossible to have a good opinion without knowing the who and why of these decisions. The story made it sound like nobody wanted to use my shiney new football so I’m gonna take it home and you guys can use the junkey football. There is more to this story which my reflect badly or not on the FS and CAL FIRE. Without complete reporting we are whistling in the wind. About all you can be sure of is that no matter what decisions get made someone will be angry and point out why it was wrong.

    Oh yeah, and the “hammer”, really? CAL FIRE has a pretty freakin’ large hammer already and it’s still adding weight. Far as I know its the biggest hammer in the world. Keep the silly analogies out of the story. The only real hammer for these fires is rain and that seems to have dried up.

  5. 60 Minutes was nothing more than a HIT PIECE by an out of control Fire Chief ! A TOTAL setup.
    Yes, night flying is going to happen as it is THE best time to knock down a fire, but policies, training and procedures must be in place first.
    To volunteer your aircraft that have not been ordered is NO different than jumping up a dispatching yourself to an incident.
    This Chief has always been a loner and not a TEAM player, just look at the nightmare between he and his county’s elected Sheriff, say no more.
    And then, when 60 Minutes goes away, he picks up HIS toys and leaves !
    No, this was nothing more news feed stunt ! Shame on him.

    Orange County Supervisor’s should be looking into this !!!!

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