60 minutes to cover the very large firefighting helicopters in SoCal

A group of 4 helicopters known as the Quick Reaction Force

2:30 p.m. PDT Sept. 24, 2021

Chinook dropping water at night.
Chinook dropping water at night. Still image from CBS video.

This article first appeared on Fire Aviation.

(Update Sept. 27, 2021: CBS has what looks like the entire transcript of the piece that aired Sunday night.)

Sunday September 26 at 7 p.m. EDT 60 minutes will broadcast a piece about the very large helicopters being used in Southern California this year. They interview Brian Fennessy, Chief of the Orange County Fire Authority about the Quick Reaction Force that has been partially financed with nearly $18 million from Southern California Edison since June 15 this year.

This group of helicopters includes two 3,000-gallon Boeing CH-47D Chinooks based in Los Angeles and Orange Counties, a Sikorsky S-61 with a 1,000-gallon tank in Ventura County, and a Sikorsky S-76 to provide intelligence, evaluate effectiveness of drops, and identify targets with a laser designator. They are all crewed 24/7 and can hover refill with water or retardant at night assisting firefighters whenever they are needed. The helicopters are operated by Coulson Aviation and have either internal or belly tanks.

On August 18 they were dispatched to assist on the Caldor Fire, working out of Amador County Airport, also known as Westover Field.

Chief Fennessy believes in prompt, aggressive, initial attack of fires.

Reporter Bill Whitaker said to the Chief, “If somebody calls 911 you hit it with everything you’ve got. You knock it out.”

“In case of fire break glass!” the chief replied.

This is not the first time a privately owned Chinook has been used in California. In 2020 one operated by Coulson Aviation worked under an 83-day 24/7 contract in collaboration with Southern California Edison (SCE) and the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA). Other Chinook operators used on fires that do not fly at night include the California National Guard, Billings Flying Service, Helimax, and Columbia.

The video below is a preview of the Sunday program.

Below is an excerpt from a CBS article about the helicopters:

“[Chief Fennessy said] the ability to lay retardant line, to continue to drop fire retardant after sundown, that’s a first,” he tells Whitaker. And there’s an added advantage: the fires usually die down at night because of decreased wind and increased humidity.

Wayne Coulson, the CEO of Coulson Aviation, is a pioneer in night firefighting. His company built the fleet with its specially designed tanks that carry either water or retardant. Computers control the tank’s doors, opening and closing at precise GPS locations.

“We can fly the aircraft to those GPS points and the doors will automatically open and close between those points,” Coulson says.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Al.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

One thought on “60 minutes to cover the very large firefighting helicopters in SoCal”

  1. I think the California fire folks need to take some assignment out of state. Not much cross pollinating happening. Come to the south with some hand tools and drip torches. We’ll feed y’all right.


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