Blackhawk helitack crew wins Lead by Example Award

BLM's Boise Helitack Crew
BLM’s Boise Helitack Crew received one of the 2018 Lead by Example Awards. Screenshot from BLM video.

The Bureau of Land Management’s Boise Helitack crew has been named one of the 2018 winners of the Paul Gleason “Lead By Example” award.

The Boise Helitack crew was recognized for its innovation and leadership in introducing the use of the Sikorsky UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter into the initial attack environment of wildland fire suppression. The Boise crew’s use of a Blackhawk helicopter for crew transport and deployment represents the first time a wildland fire agency has configured and tested a Blackhawk for this purpose.

“Your crew’s vision and constant motivation to see the program come into its full potential in spite of delays and challenges is the epitome of resilience,” said John Wood, who co-chairs the leadership committee for the National Wildfire Coordinating Group—the entity that bestows the Paul Gleason “Lead by Example” award.

During the 2017 and 2018 fire seasons, the Boise Helitack crew voluntarily took on the assignment of working through the rigorous regulatory, configuration and testing requirements necessary to certify the Blackhawk before it could be used in the interagency wildland fire suppression arena. The crew carefully developed the methods and standard procedures necessary to adapt the large helicopter to the crew’s initial attack mission.

A “helitack crew” is a group of highly trained wildland firefighters who fly by helicopter into remote and inaccessible areas on wildland fires. Once the crew is delivered to the fire, they quickly assess the fire and begin suppressing it.

The “Lead By Example” award is named for Paul Gleason, a long-time fireline supervisor and fire manager who developed a foundational philosophy of fireline safety. Mr. Gleason’s Lookout, Communication, Escape route and Safety zone checklist is now standard across the United States and other parts of the world.

The award was also presented to three other individuals for 2018:  Kim Lightley, Peter Barry,  and Kim Kelly.

Winners of the award prior to 2018.

From Wildland Fire Leadership

CAL FIRE’s Military Helicopter Managers training

It included underwater helicopter egress procedures

CAL FIRE's Military Helicopter Managers training

This weekend the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) and the California National Guard are conducting Military Helicopter Manager training in the Sutter Creek area southeast of Sacramento. This annual training is a cooperative effort between the agencies. It included underwater helicopter egress procedures. Photos by CAL FIRE.

CAL FIRE's Military Helicopter Managers training
CAL FIRE's Military Helicopter Managers training

CAL FIRE's Military Helicopter Managers training

CAL FIRE's Military Helicopter Managers training

Irish Air Corp AW139 assists villagers and firefighters in Ireland

Seven hours after the fire started the military approved the use of an AS139 helicopter to assist firefighters.

wildfire in northwest Ireland
Hundreds of villagers attacked a wildfire in northwest Ireland April 22, 2019. Screengrab from Kevin Mcbride video.

(This article first appeared on Wildfire Today)

A large wildfire burned hundreds of acres April 22 in northwest Ireland. It started at about 6 a.m. in Annagry in West Donegal and quickly spread to the neighboring villages of Loughanure and Belcruit and towards Dungloe. At 1 p.m. the Minister of State with Responsibility for Defense, Paul Kehoe, approved the use of an AW139 helicopter from the Irish Air Corps to assist firefighters. Donegal County Council also hired a private company with a smaller helicopter to drop water.

Hundreds of villagers swarmed to the fire with hand tools in attempts to stop the blaze. There were no reports of injuries or structures being destroyed. By evening the spread had been stopped.

The Irish Sun reported that one firefighter said, “This is unreal stuff. I have battled a lot of gorse fires over the years but this is amongst the most dangerous. Everything is bone dry and there is a strong wind so these are perfect conditions for the fires to spread rapidly.”

wildfire in northwest Ireland map
Satellite photo showing smoke from the wildfire north of Dungloe in northwest Ireland, April 22, 2019. Heat is represented by red dots. Heat from a second fire can be seen west of Monaghan.

wildfire in northwest Ireland
Irish Air Corps photo.
wildfire in northwest Ireland
Irish Air Corps photo.
wildfire in northwest Ireland
An AW139 helicopter operated by the Irish Air Corp assisted firefighters. Irish Air Corp photo.
wildfire in northwest Ireland
An AW139 helicopter operated by the Irish Air Corp assisted firefighters. Irish Air Corp photo.

Navy Blackhawk battles wildfire at night

Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron Two-Five
Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron Two-Five based at Andersen AFB, Guam. US Navy photo.

A U.S. Navy Blackhawk helicopter, an MH-60S, helped suppress a wildfire that was threatening homes on Guam. Not deterred by darkness, the flight crew dropped 4,200 gallons of water using an external bucket.

Here is how the squadron describes their mission:

“HSC-25 is the Navy’s only forward deployed MH-60S expeditionary squadron. We provide an armed helicopter capability for US Seventh Fleet as well as detachments to various commands covering a diverse mission set. Flying the MH-60S, HSC-25 supports permanently assigned detachments to the USS Bonhomme Richard homeported in Sasebo, Japan, and Commander, Task Force 73. These detachments perform logistics, search and rescue, and humanitarian assistance for US Seventh Fleet. HSC-25 is a tenant command on board Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. HSC-25 provides 24 hour search and rescue (SAR) and medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) service for Guam and the Northern Marianas Islands.”

USS Bonhomme Richard
Pacific Ocean (July 25, 2006) – The Wasp-class Amphibious Assault Ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) sails in formation with ships and submarines from the U.S. Navy as well as the Navies of the seven other nations. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist Seaman James R. Evans.

Below are videos of them dropping on other fires.

Video of helicopters and an MD87 dropping on the Soledad Fire

The rarely see Tanker 107 was captured in photos.

MD87 Soledad Fire retardant drop
An MD87 makes a retardant drop on the Soledad Fire in Southern California. Screengrab from video below.

Austin Dave got some excellent video Tuesday of helicopters and an MD87 air tanker dropping on the Soledad Fire in Southern California between Santa Clarita and Palmdale. The MD87, Tanker 107, is under contract to the U.S. Forest Service and helicopters can be seen in the video from both LA County and LA City.

This is the first time we have posted a confirmed photo of Tanker 107, which can be seen in Stu Mundel’s tweet. Other MD87s we have photos of, are Tankers 101, 102, 103, and 105.

Firefighter rescues pilot after plane crashes into top of tree

The aircraft was lodged in the top of a 60-foot tree

airplane lodged in top of tree
John Gregory’s aircraft crashed into the top of a tree on April 22 east of McCall, Idaho. Photo by Valley County Sheriff’s Office.

You know what they say about any landing you can walk away from……

That is what 79-year old John Gregory of McCall, Idaho did after his Piper Cub PA-18 crashed on top of a 60-foot white fir tree east of McCall Monday night. He had to be extracted from the plane and lowered to the ground by firefighters, but after his feet were firmly on top of snow at the base of the tree, he walked away uninjured.

Mr. Gregory had taken off at Challis and was intending to land at the McCall Airport but the plane lost power.

There are a number of facts about this story that are interesting other than the obvious… the plane somewhat intact at the top of the tree. (A piece of a prop and one wheel fell to the ground.)

The Valley County Sheriff’s Office said authorities were notified three ways about the accident at around 8:42 p.m.:

  1. A SPOT locater activation.
  2. US Air Force Rescue Command received notice of an unregistered EPIRB activation.
  3. Mr. Gregory called 911 on his cell phone, saying he had just crashed his plane and he was stuck in the trees in the air.

The Sheriff’s Office and McCall Fire and EMS responded into the snowy mountains on snowmobiles and a local resident brought Sno-Cat.  Two helicopters were dispatched, one from Two Bear Air and an air ambulance from Boise, but it was feared that the rotor wash would dislodge the plane, so it was all on the shoulders of the ground-based personnel.

It was dark so they worked with flashlights and lights from the Sno-Cat.

When I first heard about this accident, a plane and a victim stuck in the top of a tree, I thought that since it was near the McCall Smokejumper Base, a jumper was going to climb the tree and rescue the pilot, since they are trained in tree climbing to retrieve parachutes.

But, one of the McCall volunteer firefighters, Randy Acker, is an arborist and owner of Acker Tree Service. He offered to scale the tree, the Idaho Statesman reported. I checked, and Mr. Acker is not a smokejumper.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the Idaho Statesman. And keep in mind — it was well after dark.

[McCall Fire Captain Brandon] Swain said seven people on the ground watched the tree carefully as Acker climbed it, cutting limbs with a chainsaw as he ascended. He stopped cutting about 20 feet from the top.

“We were nervous,” Swain said. “The majority of the limbs at the top were helping support that plane.”

There was no way to know how hard the plane hit the tree or whether the tree was seriously compromised. But the plane didn’t budge while Acker worked to get the pilot out, Swain said.

Acker secured the plane to the tree with rope webbing. He then got the pilot into a safety harness so he could be lowered to the ground. Jordan Ockunzzi and Swain helped Gregory down through a process called belaying.

The Sheriff’s Office is not releasing the exact location of the incident, and is asking the public to avoid the area since a gust of wind could cause the aircraft to crash, again, this time to the ground.

airplane lodged in top of tree
John Gregory’s aircraft crashed into the top of a tree on April 22 east of McCall, Idaho. Photo by Valley County Sheriff’s Office.

NPS aircraft crashes in Alaska — pilot rescued

A Cessna 185 operated by the National Park Service crashed north of Nome, Alaska April 15 in a remote area within the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve on the Seward Peninsula. The Alaska Rescue Coordination Center received an emergency locator transmitter signal from the aircraft at about 9 a.m.

The Alaska Region Communications Center based in Denali National Park was monitoring the mission and when the pilot did not check in as scheduled, was able to use its automated flight following technology to relay accurate identification of the pilot as well as the exact location of the airplane to the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center.

The pilot, the sole occupant on the mission from Kotdzebue to Nome, was able to communicate with an overhead aircraft and reported that he had minor injuries. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pilot from Nome attempted to overfly the area later in the morning, but was turned back due to poor weather conditions.

File photo. An Air Force HH-60G Pave Hawk prepares to demonstrate in-flight refueling from an HC-130J Super Hercules during the joint forces demonstration at the Arctic Thunder Open House, July 1, 2018 at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Valerie Halbert)

An HH-60 Pavehawk helicopter and a C-130 refueling tanker responded from Joint-Base Elmendorf-Richardson with pararescuemen but initially were unable to access the area due to weather — strong winds and blowing snow.

A ground-based Search and Rescue team in Shishmaref could not mobilize because of white-out conditions.

Later in the day the Pavehawk was able to land at the site. The crew extricated the pilot and flew him to Elmendorf and then to Providence Hospital in Anchorage, where he was treated and released.

According to Alaska Air National Guard Senior Master Sgt. Evan Budd, the downed pilot was located with adequate food and survival gear to wait out the storm despite his injuries.

One of the first helicopter water buckets was developed in Vietnam

In February 1968, then 33-year old Lieutenant Colonel Glenn Carr—who served in the 213th Assault support helicopter company in Phu Loi (about 15 miles north of Saigon, Vietnam)—was approached by a Fire Brigade Commander to provide helicopter wildfire support in nearby Cho Lon.

Thinking on their feet, Glenn said his unit confiscated a grain bin that was 8′ diameter by 12′ tall and carried 800-900 gallons of water. The bin was then rigged with a valve using helicopter hydraulics, where they slung it down the Saigon River and made several successful water drops to help extinguish the fires. On a side note, Glenn did not fly the mission but helped build the bucket.

Glenn Carr helicopter water bucket
L to R) Wingbar Aviation trainer JP Johnston, who is also a Vietnam Veteran, with Glenn Carr at Bambi Bucket’s SEI Industries booth, HAI Heli-Expo, March 2019, Atlanta. SEI photo.

The Commander said the bin worked well but washed the neighbouring huts away. So, when Glenn called on an engineer who built their quarters, he suggested a 16″ square air condition grill they welded and fused on all the sides. The result was a water diffuser that allowed the bucket to effectively extinguished new fires without washing away the huts.

Today, retired 84-year old Glenn is aware that Bambi Bucket began its successful commercial production in the early 1980s, but he’s wondering if his team’s effort could have produced the first adhoc water bucket in the country of Vietnam? Only time will tell—but his efforts was certainly a great example of field engineering.