I interviewed one of the pilots that fly multi-mission helicopters for the Los Angeles Fire Department with the goal of obtaining enough information to write an article about the Department’s aviation program.
I recorded the interview, with Pilot Brandon Prince’s permission, so that I would not have to attempt to take detailed notes and in doing so miss some of what he was saying. But in playing the recording back it was obvious that Mr. Prince was very well-spoken and eloquent. He was describing the program better than an article I would have written.
So I put the interview in a video, and dressed up the audio with still photos taken at the Department’s base at Van Nuys Airport and 28 seconds of video showing two of their Augusta Westland 139 helicopters warming up before they departed on a mission to assist a hiker in distress.
In the interview Mr. Prince discusses the makeup of the seven-helicopter fleet, making decisions about where to drop water on a wildfire, hot refueling, how much fuel and water they begin a firefighting mission with, and the amount of training necessary to be qualified to serve on a helitack crew.
In a comment below our article about the Los Angeles County Fire Department Air Operations program, Chris pointed us to this excellent video that introduces firefighting helicopters to young children, saying his two-year old is obsessed with it. It has commercials, but you can skip through most of them after a few seconds.
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.
Much more information is in the video below about the Los Angeles Fire Department Airport Rescue Firefighting organization.
The Los Angeles Fire Department(LAFD) aviation program started in 1962 with one Bell 47. Today they have six helicopters, four AgustaWestland AW139’s and two Bell Jet Rangers. To work as a pilot with the Department, you can’t simply walk in off the street. The minimum qualifications are:
Private helicopter license,
At least 100 hours of flight time in a helicopter, and,
Four years experience as a firefighter with the LAFD.
After a pilot is accepted into the program they are shipped over to the Los Angeles Police Department aviation program where they receive training with 150 hours of flight time, a commercial license, and an instrument rating. If successful there, they go back to the Fire Department and get another 200 flight hours of training. Then there is additional schooling at AgustaWestland to fly their 139.
While on a water dropping mission on November 9, the second day of the Woolsey Fire in Southern California, a Los Angeles Fire Department helicopter received a new assignment. Civilians were trapped on a mountain top as the fire approached. Even as they were running critically low on fuel the pilots found a way to land on a ridge top that was littered with communication towers and vehicles.
The video below was shot from a pilot’s helmet camera.
It was great work, team work, by the pilots to successfully pull this off. We appreciate that he filmed what they were doing, and that their department approved and helped to publicize the fact that the recording exists. Some public agencies have draconian rules about their employees or the public taking photos or filming their activities. Videos like this can help citizens understand what fire departments do and how they are carrying out their missions even as politicians may lob uninformed verbal assaults their way.
CAL FIRE says the Woolsey Fire has burned 96,949 acres and 1,500 structures, with no breakdown of residences vs. outbuildings. The number of civilian fatalities has remained at three for several days.
Above: A helicopter dropped water on a fire in a condominium near Dodgers Stadium Wednesday night. Screen grab from CBS LA video.
(Originally posted at 2:53 p.m. MDT October 26, 2017)
Two fires broke out Wednesday night during the World Series game on opposite sides of Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles. First was a grass fire reported at 7:35 p.m. in the 1800 block of Academy Road. A night-flying helicopter assisted firefighters on the ground by dropping water on the blaze that burned about two acres.
The helicopter was then diverted to a fire on the third-floor balcony of a three-story condominium in the 1000 block of Everett Place where it made two water drops. Los Angeles City Department Assistant Chief Tim Ernst called it, “A quick knockdown”.
“Extremely unusual” water drop onto a house tonight. LAFD tells us homeowner was at the Dodger game, could see the fire from his seat! @ABC7pic.twitter.com/bjvCKHn2b7
The Los Angeles Fire Department is not saying much about an NTSB investigation into an accident that involved their brand new firefighting helicopter, Fire 4, an AW139 that they just put into service one or two months ago. On September 2 Fire 4 was making water drops on the La Tuna Fire in Los Angeles and struck a tree, according to a preliminary accident report by the FAA.
At least one person told NBC 4 in Los Angeles that while monitoring fire traffic on a scanner he heard the pilot say he hit something and put out a Mayday call. The pilot made a successful emergency landing at the Verdugo Hills High School football field.
You’ll probably want to click on full screen at bottom-right in the video below.
Heliweb has photos that appear to show small tree branches embedded in the damaged areas of the fuselage while the aircraft was parked on the football field. The helicopter apparently received substantial damage to the tail boom, stabilizers, and left side sponson/wheel housing. The left side stabilizer is missing in the photos.