Human External Cargo in Alberta

Human External Cargo below helicopter Canada
Human External Cargo below a helicopter in Canada. Photo: Alberta Wildfire.

Alberta Wildfire published a series of three tweets showing training for helitack personnel. One of the two videos shows four firefighters being transported at the end of a long line below a helicopter.

This tweet comes shortly after the news that Alberta plans to eliminate their helicopter rappel program, affecting 63 firefighters.

Click on the tweet below to see two additional tweets on the topic, including two videos.

Alberta shuts down their rappel program and closes up to 30 fire lookout towers

The reductions will affect 63 firefighters who may be moved to other units. One air tanker group will also be cut.

Alberta Firefighters
Alberta firefighters in 2016. Alberta Wildfire photo.

5:42 p.m. MST November 7, 2019

The Canadian province of Alberta is eliminating their helicopter rappel program. Due to budget woes throughout the province the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry is reducing its expenses by 9 percent, which translates to $23 million less funding for Alberta Wildfire this year.

Rappelers respond to wildfires in helicopters and if there is no suitable landing zone upon arrival, descend to the ground on a rope while the helicopter hovers. The concept is to arrive at a fire very soon after its reported and aggressively attack the fire while small to keep it from becoming large and endangering communities and private property.

Below are excerpts from an article at Globalnews:

The Wildland Firefighter Rappel Program — also known as the RAP program — has been in place for 36 years and employs 63 personnel each wildfire season.

According to [Minister Devin] Dreeshen, RAP firefighters spend only two per cent of the time rappelling from helicopters, and spend the rest of the time fighting wildfires on the ground — that played into the decision made in the budget.

“We found it’s better to utilize their ground work and that’s why we made the decision to have them on the ground fighting alongside the hundreds of other wildfire personnel that we have,” Dreeshen said.

According to the government, firefighters from the RAP program will be redeployed to different crews in Alberta Wildfire if they choose to return for the next wildfire season.

In 2016 Alberta had 64 four-person Helitack Crews, 2 eight-person Helitack Crews, 9 seven-person Rappel Crews, 8 twenty-person Unit Crews, and 35 eight-person Firetack Crews.

As part of the budget reduction between 15 and 30 of the province’s 127 wildfire lookout towers will no longer be staffed.

The province is also cutting their air tanker program, reducing the fleet from eight to seven air tanker groups. In 2014 there were nine air tanker groups, each consisting of an air tanker and an Air Attack Officer in a lead plane (or “Bird Dog”).

Alberta has never employed smokejumpers, or Parattack as they are called in British Columbia where they are based at Fort St. John and Mackenzie. The BC jumpers are occasionally used on fires in Alberta and Yukon.

In 2016 Alberta slashed their wildfire suppression budget by $15 million. One of the effects was cutting the tanker contracts from 123 to 93 days, saying goodby to the aircraft in mid-August.

The province had a very busy fire season this year, with a number of hand crews from the U.S. traveling north to lend a hand. In at least one location in Alberta last summer the peat moss was so dry that it turned to dust when disturbed, and in the presence of sufficient heat and oxygen was damn near explosive.

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

Air tankers working the Chuckegg Creek Fire in Alberta

Air tankers Chuckegg Creek Fire
Air tankers on the Chuckegg Creek Fire. Alberta Fire photo.

The large aircraft on the left is the Electra L-188. It has four turbine engines, can cruise at 592 km/hr (368 mph), and can carry 11,365 liters (3,000 gallons) of fire retardant.

To the right of the Electra are four of the Air Tractor 802F amphibious aircraft. They can work as land-based or skimmer air tankers. They have a cruising speed of 260 km/hr (161 mph) and can carry up to 2,430 liters (644 gallons).

The Chuckegg Creek Fire in northern Alberta has burned 276,000 hectares (682,000 acres).

Interview with an Alberta firefighter

Above: Alberta Firefighters

The excerpts below are from a Calgary Guardian article featuring an interview with Natalie Romain, a firefighter working for the government of Alberta.

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CG: “How long have you been a Wildland Firefighter?”

This is my fourth season.  I spent two years as a Helitack Member and one year as a Helitack Leader in the Fort McMurray Wildfire Management Area.  This fourth season I am now a Unit Crew Sub-Leader in the Edson Wildfire Management Area.

CG: “How many crews are there in Alberta and where are they stationed?”

Natalie Romain
Natalie Romain

We have ten Wildfire Management Areas in Alberta.  Across the province there are 64 four-person Helitack Crews, 2 eight-person Helitack Crews, 9 seven-person Rappel Crews, 8 twenty-person Unit Crews, and 35 eight-person Firetack Crews.  All the crews are very mobile and can be moved where needed most.

CG: “What are the tools of the trade?  Obviously there aren’t any fire hydrants in the forest, so what do you and your crew need to do your jobs effectively?”

Each crew plays a different role.  I am on a Unit Crew which normally fight larger wildfires, so our equipment may be different compared to initial attack Helitack Crews.  Our trucks are fitted with one mark 3 pump, a pump kit (nozzles, stranglers, fuel line, and random jewelry like quick connects and wyes), suction hose, two 50-gallon Jerry cans and five boxes of 1 ½” hose, which is a total of 2,000 feet.  With a good water source, like a river or a creek, we can get to work and get a lot accomplished.  Each sub-crew of four carries the exact same equipment layout so multiply this by five just for one unit crew!  We also carry chainsaws and hand tools (shovels and pulaskis).

****

Alberta Firefighters
Alberta Firefighters. Natalie Romain is second from left.

All photos were provided by the Government of Alberta.

Reporter flies air tanker simulator on Fort McMurray Fire

David Common, a reporter for CBC News, got some experience in an air tanker simulator, “flying” an Air Spray L-188 Electra and getting an idea of what it is like to drop retardant on the fire at Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Oddly, in the video they don’t mention that the cockpit scene was shot in a simulator.

Alberta to use drones to help find origin of fire at Fort McMurray

Reuters is reporting that the Alberta Government will use drones to help narrow down the point of origin of the huge wildfire that has burned 157,000 hectares (387,000 acres) at Fort McMurray and forced the evacuation of the entire city of more than 80,000 residents.

Below is an excerpt from the article:

…Elevated Robotic Services, which has also deployed drones for mining and construction companies, has contracts with the Alberta government and insurance broker Hub International Ltd [HBINT.UL], said Mat Matthews, the Edmonton company’s operations and safety manager.

The drones use cameras outfitted with infrared, ultraviolet and traditional optical cameras to pinpoint the hottest part of the fire and trace it to its source based on time, wind and other factors. The cameras will shoot about 800 images, which are then stitched together in a process called fire-mapping.

The work begins on Tuesday, coordinated with the other air traffic, including air tankers and helicopters.

The images, if successful, will zero down to a spot on the ground with about a 30-foot (9-meter) radius where the fire is believed to have started. From there, investigators will search on foot for the cause, such as a lightning strike or campfire.

Using the more traditional method of gathering images from helicopters, the fire’s cause could be narrowed only to half an acre, a much larger area to search on the ground, said Ron Windmueller, owner of Droneology, which supplies equipment and other services to Elevated.

Downward wind from helicopter blades can disturb the scene, forcing the pilot to stay about 1,000 feet in the air. A drone can capture images from 100 feet.

Air tanker slides off runway at Manning, Alberta

The crew of two was transported to a hospital for evaluation.

(UPDATED at 8:59 a.m. MDT, May 7, 2016)

The Whistler Question reports that the pilot of the air tanker that slid off the runway at Manning, Alberta “suffered a medical episode” and the co-pilot was forced to land the plane. This occurred while the aircraft was approaching to land.

Below is an excerpt from the article:

…During the emergency landing at the airport strip, the plane veered off the runway and came to rest in the ditch, luckily without catching fire.

The co-pilot was not injured and walked away from the crash, but the pilot suffered a cut to the head, though he was conscious and breathing when first responders arrived.

His injuries are not considered life-threatening.

Global News had a similar report.

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(Originally published at 9:42 p.m. MDT May 5, 2016)

Above: Alberta premier Rachel Notley confirms the air tanker incident at Manning.

An air tanker slid off the runway Thursday at the Manning, Alberta airport. There were no fatalities but the two pilots were being evaluated at a hospital. The air tanker had been working a fire near Manning before the incident.

T 45 at Manning Alberta
An air tanker at Manning Alberta slid off the runway on Thursday. CTV news photo.

CBC news quoted Eleanor Miclette, the acting chief administrative officer for the County of Northern Lights, who said the air crew lost control of the plane’s steering and crash-landed at the end of the runway around 4 p.m. The aircraft, a Convair, leaked fuel following the crash but there was no fire.

The position of the aircraft in the photo above is similar to that in the 2010 off-runway excursion of Neptune’s Tanker 44, a P2V, when a hydraulic failure upon landing led to inadequate brakes. The position is reminiscent of Minden’s Tanker 48 in 2014 that had a hydraulic failure causing the nose wheel to collapse while landing.

Tanker 45 at JEFFCO
Conair’s Tanker 45 at JEFFCO airport near Denver, June 2012 during the High Park Fire. In the Canadian aircraft registry, it is listed as a Convair 340-32 manufactured in 1953. Photo by Shane Harvey.

Alberta cuts wildfire suppression budget by $15 million

The cuts mean air tanker contracts end on August 16.

Air Spray executives
Ravi Saip and Paul Lane in front of one of their Electras at Chico, California, on March 21, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Below is an excerpt from an article at CBCnews:

With wildfires already spreading in Alberta, one air tanker company is raising the alarm on cuts to the province’s fire suppression budget.
Paul Lane, the vice president of Air Spray, said the company’s contract was cut by 25 per cent in the recent budget.

“The province has reduced the operating contracts, for not just us but the other air tanker operator, from 123 days to 93 days,” he said.

“Effectively that will mean that all the air tanker assets in Alberta will come up contract by August 16. The province has no guarantee of availability after that period of those air tanker assets.”

The province reduced the overall wildfire suppression budget by about $15 million.

Premier Rachel Notley said the budget reflects base levels of funding and that emergency funds will kick in if needed for more fire suppression.

“All that happened is a high level of expenditure engaged last year because of the high level of fires was reduced back to the normal amount,” she said. ..