Meet the Night-flying Helicopters Remaking Aerial Firefighting

Admin Emergency Services, Helicopter Services

Possibly due to a mix of climate change fears and seasonal factors, wildfires have been making considerable news throughout parts of the United States in recent years. Regardless of the cause, fighting these often sudden and rapidly spreading disasters has never been an easy task for disaster relief agencies.

Even if firefighters have access to helicopter emergency services that can air-drop fire retardant or water on spreading flames, their best efforts don’t always pan out quickly enough. This might change to something more favorable for those who fight these fires with the emergence of new night-flying helicopter firefighting missions.

According to a broadcast interview by news service 60 Minutes with Orange County Fire Authority Chief Brian Fennessy, the county has been cooperating with neighboring Ventura and Los Angeles counties to mount a Quick Reaction Force.

This joint effort is stationing two enormous, private contractor-owned Boeing CH-47D Chinooks that can each carry 3000 gallons of liquid for major firefighting response capacity. In addition to these, Ventura County will be using a Sikorsky S-61 chopper with a 1000-gallon tank while another Sikorsky –A S-76 model- with intelligence and surveillance tools that include laser-guided fire monitoring capacity will be maintained by Orange County.

The two Chinooks will be stationed in Orange and LA counties. Also importantly, the Chinooks are designed for night-fighting of fires, theoretically allowing them to run in 24-hour marathon sessions. All four helicopters are to be kept crewed and ready by their private contractor owner 24 hours per day for rapid response times. According to Fire Chief Fennessy, this is a requirement of his strategy for prompt, aggressive attacks against fires before they spread out of control.

With their night-fighting capacity, the four birds should be capable of delivering such a response better than would normally be the case. From Fennessy’s comments to the media, this ability to lay down lines of fire retardant after sundown will be a first for the region. It will also offer the benefit of hitting right when fires tend to die down somewhat due to night-time weather conditions.

This program is partly being financed by Southern California Edison with $18 million in funds that have been put up since mid-June of this year. The contractor that owns the four choppers also operates and maintains them at all times as part of the three-county deal.

Private contractors frequently provide emergency helicopter services for firefighting and many other disaster relief or rescue operations throughout the United States. Air charter companies like Flex Air Aviation offer both helicopters and charter planes for different emergency service requirements.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia