14 things to know about Los Angeles County Fire Department Air Operations

Tom Short
Tom Short, a Senior Pilot with Los Angeles County Fire Department, at the Sikorsky display at HAI Heli-Expo in Atlanta, March 5, 2019. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

On Tuesday while at the HAI Heli-Expo in Atlanta, I met Tom Short, a Senior Pilot with the Los Angeles County Fire Department. I found him at the large Sikorsky display talking with their representatives about technical issues. Thankfully he was able to carve out some time from his schedule to talk with me.

Chief Pilot
The agency does not have a Chief Pilot; instead they have three Senior Pilots. The most senior in terms of longevity is Tom Short, who has 14,000 hours of helicopter flight time.

Number of helicopters
The fire department has ten helicopters.

Multi-mission
The ships are used for a wide variety of missions: wildfire suppression, hoisting victims, short-haul, medical transport, swift-water rescue, large animal rescue, transporting firefighters, high-rise rescue, ocean rescue, and command and control.

 Los Angeles County Bell 412
Three of Los Angeles County Bell 412 helicopters. LACFD photo.

Bell 412s
Five of the ten helicopters are Bell 412 ships. Three are the EP model and two are HP.

Firehawks
The other five are Firehawks. Two of those, S-70i models, were received in December, 2017 and are still in the process of being converted.

Converting Blackhawk to Firehawk
The primary tasks to convert a Blackhawk into a Los Angeles County FD Firehawk are to extend the main landing gear in order to install a 1,000-gallon  belly tank. The helicopters also have a 30-gallon tank that carries Class A foam concentrate which can be mixed into the main water tank. They also receive hoists, Nite Sun searchlights, and an assortment of radios.

Los Angeles County Firehawk helicopters
Three of Los Angeles County Firehawk helicopters. LACFD photo.

Retractable snorkel
The department began using retractable snorkels in 2001. The collapsable large-diameter hose flattens when rolled onto a spool.  There are two major advantages of the retractable snorkel:  the aircraft can taxi (without dragging the hose and pump on the ground) and there is no artificial speed restriction (you don’t have to worry about the hose and pump banging against the helicopter in flight).

Water pump
The snorkel hoses have an electric water pump at the lower end that pumps water up the hose and into the belly tank, filling it in about a minute.

Adding more Firehawks
The department has a plan to get five more Firehawks, but there is no funding for the acquisition.

Their first Firehawk
The department operated a Firehawk for the first time in 1998 when for four months they leased a Blackhawk with a belly tank from Sikorsky.

Single pilot certification
The Los Angeles County Fire Department is the only organization certified by Sikorsky to operate Blackhawks with a single pilot.

Contracted aircraft
For years the department has contracted for two CL-215 or CL-415 scooper air tankers and one Air-Crane helicopter during the busiest part of the wildfire season.

Night-flying
All of the department’s Firehawks are equipped for night-flying after they are fully modified.

Bonus
Los Angeles County has a population of over 10 million and encompasses 4,000 square miles. The County Fire Department has 163 fire stations.

Videos of Firehawks working the Woolsey Fire along Malibu coast

The above video shot from a Los Angeles County Fire Department helicopter at the Woolsey Fire as it flies near the coast at Malibu, California is very impressive — especially if you watch it in full screen.

I certainly feel for the residents of the homes seen in these images.

The next two videos show the LA County helicopters borrowing water from residential swimming pools. I expect the homeowners are more than willing to give up some of their water if it can help save their residence.

LA County FD helicopters are supporting firefighters on the ground 24-hours a day.

More information about the Woolsey Fire.

A salute to LA County Air Operations

The Fox TV station in Los Angeles honored the Los Angeles County Fire Department Air Operations Section in this video clip.

Video: LA County helicopter drops on Skirball Fire

The Skirball Fire burned 475 acres early Wednesday morning in Los Angeles and forced the closure of the 405 freeway, one of the busiest highways in the nation.

Super Scoopers to begin in Los Angeles County Monday

The amphibious air tankers will be based at Van Nuys Airport.

Above: file photo of a CL-415 “Super Scooper”. This one photographed at McClellan Air Field is operated by AeroFlite, rather than the province of Quebec like the two aircraft that will be in Los Angeles County.

The annual migration of two water-scooping air tankers from Quebec to Los Angeles County has begun. Two CL-415’s were due to arrive in Los Angeles Saturday and will be operational on Monday out of Van Nuys Airport (map).

For the last 23 wildfire seasons Los Angeles County has leased at least two water-scoopers for a portion of the second half of the calendar year. The timing is based on the assumption that the most devastating wildfires occur during the last quarter or so of the year when strong Santa Ana winds are common. Usually they come on board around the first of September and depart in November or December, but the length of the assignment can be extended if necessary.

In July of this year the County Board of Supervisors awarded a five-year contract to Quebec’s government to lease at least two of the air tankers during the southern California fire season.

In 2015 the two CL-415’s were augmented by two additional scoopers on October 9 after the county Board of Supervisors decided they were necessary because of the ongoing drought. The four aircraft that year were not needed as much as they are in an average year.

The two aircraft leased in 2013 were kept in the county well into January and were heavily used on the Colby Fire near Glendora January 16, 2014. The video below shows Tanker 241 scooping at Santa Fe Dam during the firefight.

Los Angeles County usually leases a Helitanker during the fall, an Erickson Air-Crane S-64F that can hold 2,650 gallons of water or retardant.

These leased aircraft join the Department’s own fleet of eight or nine helicopters to assist firefighters on the ground.

Firehawk drops on Princeton Fire

firehawk helicopter drops
Los Angeles County FD Firehawk.

A Los Angeles County Fire Department Firehawk helicopter (@lacofireairops) makes a drop while assisting the Ventura County Fire Department at the Princeton Fire near the 118 Freeway between Moorpark & Simi Valley. (? by #lacofd Volunteer Photographer @resqric Rick McClure)