The Fire Aviation website receives a facelift

working computerYou might have noticed that there have been some changes at Fire Aviation over the last week. I wanted the site to load faster and it needed a facelift so I hired a graphic artist and a software developer to tweak the layout, the back end, and the header at the top of the page .

We didn’t shut down the site to do this, so you might have seen some unusual behavior off and on. It was kind of like changing the oil strainer on a Martin Mars while in flight.

I think it’s very close to complete, but if you run across something that appears to be broken or does not work well, let us know in a comment on this article, or contact us by email.

Here is a list of what has changed:

  • Faster. The site loads more quickly.
  • New Site Search. The previous Google-powered search function that showed ads is replaced by a customized advanced search with filters; pull-down lists that can help zero in on what you’re searching for. You don’t have to select any of the filter items; you can simply enter a term in the search box. You may restrict the search to a particular year or a month. On the “Countries” list the United States is not listed, so if that’s where you think the target may be, just leave that at “Countries”. If you want to narrow the search to one of the other 10 countries in the pull-down list, you’re free to do that. Provinces in Canada and Australia are in the “States/Pr” list along with the 50 U.S. states. “Topics” is a selection of 26 of the most commonly used tags (what the article is about). Tags make it easier for you (and Google) to search for a topic. To date we have used over 856 different tags. Some are obviously used more often than others.
  • Sort by seven categories. In main navigation at the top of the page you can click on “Articles” to see posts on one of the seven  categories to which all articles on Fire Aviation are assigned.
  • Lazy Loading of images. The images “lazy load”. That is, the ones that are lower down don’t load into your browser until it appears that you are about to scroll down to display that image. So initially you only load what you need, then the loading stops. As you scroll down, more images download. You don’t have to download six articles if you’re only going to view one or two.
  • New Header. The header image at the top of the page is new and consumes less vertical real estate.
  • The main navigation (Home, Articles, Links, etc.) was moved to the very top of the page and embedded in a dark background. It now remains visible as you scroll down the page.
  • Less white space. There is less empty space at the top of the home page, and the mostly empty column on the left is gone.
  • Info at top of article. Below the headline for each article you will now see the original posting date for the article, the category, tags, and a link to view or leave comments.

NPS selects Ody Anderson as Aviation Safety Manager

Mr. Anderson is a certified UAS pilot

From the National Park Service

Ody Anderson
Ody Anderson. NPS photo.

Alton “Ody” Anderson has been named national aviation safety manager for the National Park Service (NPS). Ody is currently the regional aviation manager (RAM) for DOI Unified Regions 1 and 2, as well as National Capital Area.

In his current position, Anderson oversees a highly complex aviation program for the regions that includes year-round aviation operations at Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park. The regions have two fleet helicopters, exclusive use helicopter contract, other contracts for helicopter services, one fleet fixed wing, and four unmanned aircraft system (UAS) fleet programs. Anderson is also a certified UAS pilot.

Prior to becoming the RAM, Anderson served as the Fire Management Officer (FMO) at Cumberland Island National Seashore (CUIS) and the Atlantic Zone in NPS’s Southeast Region. As the FMO of the Atlantic Zone, he oversaw fire planning and operations at eight NPS units. The Atlantic Zone used robust collaborative efforts with local, state, and federal partners to manage fire across agency boundaries, resulting in the presentation of the Pulaski Award in 2015 to the Greater Okefenokee Association of Land Owners (GOAL), of which CUIS is a partner. Ody maintains several wildland fire and aviation qualifications and brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the aviation management position. Prior to joining the NPS, Anderson served as a fuels specialist with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) where he planned fuels treatments in Colorado. Throughout his career in fire and aviation, Ody served in several other positions that prepared him for his new role. During his time in Colorado and California with the U.S. Forest Service and BLM, he held positions on hand crews, wildland fire modules, engines, and helicopter crews.

NPS aviation branch chief, John Buehler looks forward to having Ody join the team that also includes fleet and helicopter specialists. “Ody will be a great addition to the national aviation team and fill a needed position to give the NPS the best customer service and excel in our safety record for aviation. His numerous years of operational experience within the wildland fire and aviation community will bring additional knowledge to the aviation branch, which will positively impact the overall NPS aviation program.”

Excited to begin his new role, Anderson said, “I look forward to engaging in this new role. It should prove to be both challenging personally and vital to the aviation program as a whole. I intend to work with managers, pilots, crews, partners, and vendors to create a safe aviation environment for the NPS. I am also very excited to be working as part of our national aviation team and collaborating to ensure that we have an efficient, effective, and safe aviation program.”

Anderson will officially begin his new role around February 3, 2020 at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, ID.

Interview with the pilot of the Smokey Bear balloon

Smokey Bear balloon
Smokey Bear balloon at the Shenandoah County Fire. Fred Turck photo.

The Smokey Bear hot air balloon has been flying over crowds of people since its first public voyage in 1993 at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in New Mexico. In 2012 it survived calls by two Senators to ground the program. But in the 1,806 articles posted on Fire Aviation, we have never written about flying the aircraft. We’re about to fix that oversight.

This is an interview with the pilot, Henry Rosenbaum who is the Henrico County (Virginia) Fire Marshal and a part-time balloon pilot for the Friends Of Smokey Balloon Organization. It was conducted by Fred Turck of the Virginia Department of Forestry.

When did you join the fire service? How did you end up as Henrico’s Fire Marshall?

When I was in high school, I became a lifeguard in which I had to take EMT classes.  At that time, I wanted to be a lifeguard at Virginia Beach, the dream of many a young male lifeguard at the time.  In 1981, I joined the Lakeside Volunteer Rescue Squad to get more training and experience.  By the time, I graduated for from High School my focus turned from the beach to finding a job locally with the fire service. In 1984, I was hired by Henrico County and became a certified paramedic in 1985. I spent several years in the training division and administration and I served as Captain at several stations before being appointed as Fire Marshal in 2011.

Why the Fire Service?

I love making a difference in the lives of others; it is a way to give back to the citizens of the county and the community that have given me so much.

How did you get started in hot air ballooning?

In 1987, I took my first ride in a balloon; this ride was a life-changing event for me.  In 1988, I got my Hot Air Balloon Pilot’s license; purchased my first hot air balloon, which was called Fire 3 and later got my Commercial Pilot’s license.

Fred Turck & Henry Rosenbaum
Fred Turck & Henry Rosenbaum (pilot), L to R. Photo by Debbie Turck.

What was the training like?

Training was both book and practical.  I studied for my written exam given by the FFA; passed that and then I passed my flight test. The FAA examiner checks out my skills and abilities to maneuver the balloon safely. This was followed-up with a 1-2 hour oral review. To receive my Commercial license I needed to take another written test and have another check flight with a Commercial Pilot. Once you receive you Commercial license you are also considered an instructor, testing and mentoring new pilots.  I really enjoy this aspect.

What is your favorite thing about ballooning?

Sharing the sport of ballooning with people who do not typically have the opportunity to be involved with balloons. There is no age barrier; ballooning leaves an ever-lasting impression with folks.  Ask anyone what was the last billboard they saw and a very few might be able to tell you. However, ask them if they ever saw a Hot Air Balloon and if so what did it look like and where were you? Most will recall their encounter and tell you all about it.

I have used ballooning to promote Virginia is For Lovers, Learn Not to Burn, Autism, Childhood Cancer, Move Over and of course Wildfire Prevention with the Smokey Bear Balloon. I am drawn to causes that are personnel to me, ones I have a connection with. The Move Over Campaign honors Hanover Firefighter, Lt. Brad Clark, who was killed in the line of duty while responding to a crash on I-295 during Tropical Storm Michael.

What is the hardest part of piloting a balloon?

Maintaining the balloon at a specific altitude.  It may sound simple, but it is not. Anyone can get in a balloon, turn the burners on and the balloon will go up, turn them off and it goes down, keeping altitude is hard.

What if any instruments do you have to help you pilot a balloon?

Continue reading “Interview with the pilot of the Smokey Bear balloon”

Scientists develop retardant gel with “persistent retention”qualities

It could be used to pretreat areas at high risk of fire ignitions to make them fire resistant

long term gel fire resistant
Overhead time-course images of 3 m × 3 m unmowed (standing) grass plots that were untreated or treated with different coverage levels, dried, weathered, and allowed to dry again over time in the environment prior to burning. The normalized area burned over time demonstrates that CL2 (coverage level 2, or 2 gallons per 100 square feet) is sufficient to preclude spreading of the fire. Air tankers use the same unit of measurement, coverage level, to specify how much retardant will be dropped. Figure from the research.

(This article first appeared on Wildfire Today.)

A group of scientists and engineers have developed a new fire retarding chemical, actually a gel in this case, that they say can be effective for months after being applied to vegetation.

The millions of gallons of red fire retardant that air tankers drop every year is usually made from ammonium phosphate or its derivatives. It has  been called “long term fire retardant” because even after it dries, the chemical can interfere with the combustion process and may still retard the spread of  a vegetation fire to a limited degree. However research and experience in the field has shown some formulations can be toxic to fish.

Gels have been used by firefighters for several decades on structure fires occasionally on vegetation fires. The products can be more effective than plain water due to their ability to stick to a vertical surface or vegetation. Water can remain in the gel for an hour or more depending on the ambient temperature, wind, and humidity. GelTech Solutions recently received a contract from the Oregon Department of Forestry to supply a blue-colored version of FireIce HVB-Fx gel to be used in air tankers. The company says the product passed the U.S. Forest Service’s newly revised, more challenging requirements for wildland fire chemicals. But the safety data sheet for the product says, “Titanium dioxide [a component of the product] has been classified by IARC as a possible carcinogen to humans (Group 2B) through inhalation of particulate dust.” The safety data sheet goes on to say, “This classification is based on inadequate evidence for carcinogenicity in humans, but sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in animals (rats). It should be noted that recent studies have demonstrated that the rat may be particularly sensitive to high levels of toxicity dusts such as titanium dioxide. Epidemiology studies do not suggest an increased risk of cancer in humans from occupational exposure to titanium dioxide. The conclusions of several epidemiology studies on more than 20,000 TiO2 industry workers in Europe and the USA did not suggest a carcinogenic effect of TiO2 dust on the human lung.”

This is not the first time blue gel has been used in air tankers. The photo below was taken in the Black Hills of South Dakota August 15, 2006.

blue gel air tanker fire retardant
A single engine air tanker drops blue gel on a fire near Shep’s Canyon in the Black Hills of South Dakota August 15, 2006. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The scientists who developed the new fire retarding gel that they claim has “persistent retention”qualities said their formulation is environmentally benign, nontoxic, and will “biodegrade at desired timescales.” After application, it will retain its ability to prevent fires throughout the peak fire season, even after weathering that would sweep away conventional fire retardants. The cellulose-based gel-like fluid stays on target vegetation through wind, rain and other environmental exposure, they said.

“This has the potential to make wildland firefighting much more proactive, rather than reactive,” said Eric Appel, the study’s senior author and an assistant professor of materials science and engineering.

Treating wildfire prone areas prophylactically could provide a highly targeted approach to wildfire prevention, but, until now, long-lasting materials have not been available.

The researchers have worked with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) to test the retardant materials on grass and chamise — two vegetation types where fire frequently starts. They found the treatment provides complete fire protection even after half an inch of rainfall. Under the same conditions, a typical commercial retardant formulation provides little or no fire protection. The researchers are now working with the California Department of Transportation and CAL FIRE to test the material on high-risk roadside areas that are the origin of dozens of wildfires every year.

“We don’t have a tool that’s comparable to this,” said Alan Peters, a CAL FIRE division chief in San Luis Obispo who monitored some of the test burns. “It has the potential to definitely reduce the number of fires.”

The Stanford-developed treatment contains only nontoxic materials widely used in food, drug, cosmetic and agricultural products, according to the developers. The unique properties of these gel-like retardant fluids allow them to be applied using standard agricultural spraying equipment or from aircraft. It washes away slowly, providing the ability to protect treated areas against fire for months as the materials slowly degrade.

Link to the research paper, “Wildfire prevention through prophylactic treatment of high-risk landscapes using viscoelastic retardant fluids”.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tim, Carl, and Kelly. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Firefighting at Los Angeles International Airport

Los Angeles Fire Department airport rescue
Screen grab from LAFD video.

Airport firefighting is a very specialized niche —  there are not many similarities in what they do compared to most other firefighters. For example, one of the Los Angeles Fire Department’s rigs at the city’s airport can apply by the push of a button on the dash, water, foam, dry chemical, or Halotron (a clean agent). That truck also has a penetrator device which can pierce the fuselage of an aircraft in order to apply one of the four suppressing agents in the interior of the aircraft.

Los Angeles Fire Department airport rescue
A penetrating nozzle on a Los Angeles Fire Department airport rescue truck. Screen grab from LAFD video.

Much more information is in the video below about the Los Angeles Fire Department Airport Rescue Firefighting organization.

John Buehler named Aviation Chief for National Park Service

John Buehler
John Buehler. NPS photo by C. Boehle

John Buehler has been named as the new branch chief for the National Park Service Aviation Program, succeeding Margaret “Meg” Gallagher, who is retiring in January 2019 after spending about nine months in the position.

Mr. Buehler has served in a variety of jobs in his professional career:

  • U.S. Army (beginning in 1994), tank platoon leader, headquarters company executive officer, a graduate of the Aviation Officer Advanced Course
  • General Electric, Six Sigma program
  • General Accountability Office, auditor
  • Nuclear Regulatory Commission, special agent
  • Bureau of Land Management, internal affairs special agent (his present job).

Mr. Buehler is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, with a degree in civil engineering, math, and law. He received a Master of Business Administration from Vanderbilt University’s Owen School of Management where he completed a dual concentration in finance and operations.

Mr. Buehler is a private pilot and continues to serve in the Army Reserves. He was activated as the Department of Defense Liaison to the National Interagency Fire Center in 2014, 2015, and 2017.

He will begin his new position January 6, 2019.

Kristin Swoboda accepts position in NPS Aviation Branch

Kristin Swoboda
Kristin Swoboda. NPS photo by Tina Boehle.

Kristin Swoboda has been named as the new fleet, pilot, and unmanned aircraft (UAS) specialist for the National Park Service. She will have oversight over the agency’s government owned and operated aircraft.

The last NPS person in the position was Jim Traub who retired in 2014. Christina Boehle, a spokesperson for the NPS, said that from 2014 to 2018 the duties were performed by a contractor.

The National Park Service Aviation Branch has been led by Chief Meg Gallagher since April of this year. Before that Ms. Gallagher was an Aviation Management Specialist responsible for the NPS’ helicopter operations. That position, a GS-12/13, is being advertised now.

Ms. Swoboda just transferred to the National Park Service after working for the Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) in Boise, Idaho as their regional UAS manager. During her time with the bureau, she initiated their involvement with Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS). Kristin was instrumental in assisting the development of a department-level UAS policy for the Department of the Interior (DOI) and was part of the team of DOI subject matter experts who worked with NASA to evaluate and select potential new unmanned aircraft. She completed her formal education at the University of Idaho where she graduated with a degree in Forest Resources Ecosystems Management and a minor in Wildfire Management.

She began her federal career with the US Forest Service working in a variety of positions in wildland fire operations, prescribed fire, aviation, engine crews, as well as on an interagency hotshot crew.

In the past few years, her interest in unmanned aircraft carried over into the creation of a personal commercial UAS business focused mainly on precision agriculture applications. This has aided in increasing her breadth of knowledge in unmanned operations, camera/sensor deployment, and the creation of multiple types of data products.

Kristin also holds a private pilot’s license and owns a Beechcraft Sierra B24R low-wing monoplane. She has experience in flying various types of aircraft including an Atec Faeta, Piper Archer, Piper Warrior, Cirrus SR22, Columbia 400 and Cessna Taildraggers. Fostering her love of flying has accelerated her passion to expand her aviation knowledge, and to develop this enthusiasm in others.

Jim Traub National Park Service
Jim Traub (right) at AirVenture in Oshkosh, WI in 2009. He retired July 30, 2014.

Photos from the Holy Fire in Orange County, California

Holy Fire California

(Above: The Holy Fire as seen from the 747 Supertanker August 6, 2018. Credit: Hiroshi Ando, Drop System Operator, Global SuperTanker)

(This article first appeared on

These photos of the Holy Fire in Orange County, California were taken August 6.

Holy Fire California HC-130H
An HC-130H at the Holy Fire, August 6, 2018. It is either Tanker 116 or 118. ABC7 image.
Holy Fire Orange County California
A lead plane over the Holy Fire as seen from the 747 Supertanker August 6, 2018. Credit: Hiroshi Ando, Drop System Operator, Global SuperTanker.
Holy Fire Orange County California
The Holy Fire as seen from the 747 Supertanker August 6, 2018. Credit: Hiroshi Ando, Drop System Operator, Global SuperTanker.

Continue reading “Photos from the Holy Fire in Orange County, California”