Annual fire training in California for National Guard helicopter crews

national guard helicopter fire traning

By John Yount 

This year the annual fire suppression training for California and Nevada Air and Army National Guard helicopter crews was held April 15-17, 2016 near Sutter Creek, California. Chinook, Blackhawk, and Lakota helicopters participated in a mock fire incident using Pardee Lake as a water source.

The Guard is only activated when private sector helicopter operators cannot fill the incident commander’s resource orders for a particular type or mission specific helicopter. Usually the requests are for a Type 1 helicopter, a  Blackhawk or Chinook, that cannot be supplied by the private sector in a reasonable period of time.

national guard helicopter fire traning

The Lakota helicopter is used as a helicopter coordinator platform and for medical evacuation missions. If requested by the incident commander the Lakota can be dispatched with military medics. During the last five decades the Guard assisted on fires in almost every fire season.

national guard helicopter fire traning

The policy of teaming a Guard helicopter with a CAL FIRE military helicopter manager serving as a flight crew member has been a successful program for twenty years. The military manager not only provides tactical fire direction including initial attack on new fires but arranges for complete logistical support.  The manager works closely with a military liaison to make sure the program flows smoothly.

national guard helicopter fire traning

These photos were taken by Bob Martinez, a Volunteer in Prevention Photographer for CAL FIRE. You can see more of his work at his web site.

national guard helicopter fire traning

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California National Guard helicopter crews train to fight wildfires

California National Guard helicopter crew training wildifire

The article below was written by Johnny Yount. Photos were taken by Bob Martinez.

Times are changing in the wildfire business as quickly as the global weather. The annual National Guard and CAL FIRE training was conducted April 10 through 12 at the CAL FIRE Academy in Ione and Lake Pardee in Amador County.  The Army National Guard has been in partnership with CAL FIRE for over five decades fighting fire with helicopters. The C 130 (MAFFS) provided by the Air National Guard at Channel Islands have been delivering retardant since the 1970’s. In an effort to protect the people and resources of California every branch of the military in California can provide aerial delivery of water or retardant.  This is not unique to California, as many states have increasingly become involved in using state guard units to augment firefighting forces.

In the early 1990’s a plan called Spirit of Cooperation was put together by CAL FIRE to begin working much more closely with the State’s military helicopter units to  benefit and provide a safer fire work environment for both CAL FIRE and the Military.

California National Guard helicopter crew training wildifireCalifornia National Guard helicopter crew training wildifire

Meetings where held, issues identified, and a plan of action initiated with a mutual understanding  of what would be required to enhance the capability of both the Guard and CAL FIRE simultaneously.

There were five components to the plan. One of the components identified was the addition of a military helicopter manager who would fly at all times with the helicopter and provide tactical and logistical support to the military air crew. This simple step, providing an air program qualified helicopter manager to be part of the flight crew, maximizes the capability of the helicopter to move around the State much like a fixed wing air tanker.

The training at the CAL FIRE Academy was a refresher for most in attendance. The majority of the students are CAL FIRE aerial fire fighters, air attack and helitack Captains. Each military manager represents years of air program understanding and airborne firefighting experience.  Also involved in the program are aerial fire fighters from Orange County Fire Authority and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

California National Guard helicopter crew training wildifire

When a Guard helicopter is activated, a manager is assigned to a specific copter and crew. The Blackhawks have a crew of three military and one CAL FIRE military manager. The Chinooks have a crew of four military and one CAL FIRE manager. In addition to the airborne helicopter assets, Guard and CAL FIRE liaisons are assigned to the activation.  Maintenance teams, fuel tenders and other military support staff are also assigned as needed to assure that the activation runs smoothly.  As mentioned, the Guard helicopters move around the State more like a fixed wing air tanker than a helicopter.  It would not be uncommon for a Guard helicopter to be working a fire on the Modoc National Forest (Alturas Airport), get released, head south to a new emerging fire on the Angeles National Forest, remain overnight in Bakersfield, and then be reassigned to a fire in Ventura County.

During transit the Guard helicopters are in contact with the three primary CAL FIRE Operation Centers at Sacramento, Riverside and Redding.  New initial attack fires or change of assignment are common.  This fire season the Guard facilities at Los Alamitos, Stockton and Mather will be providing as many as five Chinooks and five Blackhawks.

CAL FIRE will hold similar training with the United States Marine Corps and Navy.

California National Guard helicopter crew training wildifire

California National Guard helicopter crew training wildifire

California National Guard helicopter crew training wildifire

Lakota helicopter used at Black Forest Fire

Black Forest fire Lakota helicopter
First produced in 2007, the Eurocopter UH-72 Lakota can be used for recon on wildland fires. It has a hoist which might be used for extracting an injured firefighter. Photo by Bill Gabbert

The Colorado Army National Guard supplied a UH-72 Lakota helicopter at the Black Forest Fire near Colorado Springs. The ship was parked at the baseball field adjacent to Pine Creek School and was used for recon on the fire.

The Lakota is a militarized version of the Eurocopter EC145. EASDS North America, which manufactures it in Columbus, Mississippi, says 267 have been built.

According to Wikipedia, it has a useful load of 3,953 pounds and can carry 8 troops. I am not aware of any being used to drop water on fires, but if the “useful load” figure is accurate that would translate to around 400 gallons of water and a Bambi Bucket, if it is capable of carrying an external load.

Black Forest fire Lakota helicopter
The Eurocopter UH-72 Lakota is flown by the Army and the Army National Guard. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Other military helicopters were also used on the Black Forest Fire, including two UH60s and two CH47s, from Ft. Carson and the Colorado Army National Guard. Below is a photo taken from one of those aircraft.

Black Forest Fire helicopter drop
U.S. Army pilots and crew members with the 2nd General Support Aviation Battalion, 4th Aviation Regiment, 4th Combat Aviation Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, release water with a helicopter bucket over the Black Forest Fire, June 12, 2013. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jonathan C. Thibault

Air Force Academy: Forward Area Refueling Point

firefighting military helicopters
First Lt. Alicia Tigges, the officer in command of Echo Company 2-4, General Support Aviation Battalion/Distribution Platoon from Fort Carson Army Base, talks to a crew member from the National Guard Black Hawk helicopter at the Forward Area Refueling Point on the U.S. Air Force Academy Airfield in Colorado Springs, Colo. Chinook and Black Hawk helicopters are fighting forest fires in the Black Forest area, just north of Colorado Springs, Colo., June 12, 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ray McCoy/”Released”)

The Air Force Academy near Colorado Springs is being used as a forward refueling point for the military helicopters working on the Black Forest Fire on the outskirts of the city. The helicopters being used are Chinooks, Lakotas, and Black Hawks.

firefighting military helicopters
Echo Company 2-4, General Support Aviation Battalion/Distribution Platoon from Fort Carson Army Base, set up a forward area refueling point at the U.S. Air Force Academy Airfield in Colorado Springs, Colo. Chinook and Black Hawk helicopters are fighting forest fires in the Black Forest area, just north of Colorado Springs, Colo., June 12, 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ray McCoy/”Released”)
firefighting military helicopters
A Lakota helicopter fighting forest fires in the Black Forest area, just north of Colorado Springs, Colo., approaches the Forward Area Refueling Point set up by Echo Company 2-4, General Support Aviation Battalion/Distribution Platoon from Fort Carson Army Base at the U.S. Air Force Academy Airfield in Colorado Springs, Colo. The helicopter is assisting in the fight of forest fires in the Black Forest area just north of Colorado Springs, Colo., June 12, 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ray McCoy/”Released”)
firefighting military helicopters
A Black Hawk helicopter fighting forest fires in the Black Forest area, just north of Colorado Springs, Colo., approaches a Forward Area Refueling Point set up by Echo Company 2-4, General Support Aviation Battalion/Distribution Platoon from Fort Carson Army Base at the U.S. Air Force Academy Airfield in Colorado Springs, Colo., June 12, 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ray McCoy/”Released”)
firefighting helicopters
A Black Hawk helicopter from the National Guard fighting forest fires in the Black Forest area, just north of Colorado Springs, Colo., departs the Forward Area Refueling Point set up by Echo Company 2-4, General Support Aviation Battalion/Distribution Platoon from Fort Carson Army Base set up at the U.S. Air Force Academy Airfield in Colorado Springs, Colo., June 12, 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ray McCoy/”Released”)