Lessons learned from an air tanker pilot during 40-year career

This excellent video is described like this:

Lessons Learned from Air Tanker Pilot Bill Waldman

For 40 eventful years, chief pilot Bill Waldman supported wildland fire suppression activities by making more than 13,000 retardant drops on fires in practically every state in this country, including Alaska, Canada, and Mexico. In this interview, Captain Waldman shares valuable insights gained from his extensive career—and provides priceless advice to pilots just beginning theirs’.

We appreciate Mr. Waldman sharing some of the things he has learned. Many of them can be translated to fire suppression on the ground as well as in the air.


Station fire investigators identify a person of interest

Homicide detectives investigating the Station fire near Los Angeles in which two LA County firefighters were killed, want to talk to a person who was seen leaving the scene of an arson fire that burned a few square feet six days before the Station fire began. 

Babatunsin Olukunle, 25, was spotted by U. S. Forest Service workers as he walked away from the August 20 Lady Bug fire that started six miles away from the origin of the August 26 Station fire. It was unknown whether he was thought to be involved in the fire or simply a witness.

Olukunle dropped out of the University of California in 2004 and according to Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Lt. Liam Gallagher, is a transient, is articulate and has an accent. 

LA County and the state have offered a $150,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the person responsible for the Station fire.

California: dispute with union prevents Orange County helicopters from being used at night

Sixteen months ago the Orange County Fire Authority made the decision to begin using helicopters at night to fight fire. They even purchased $25 million worth of helicopters specially outfitted for night flying, but a dispute with their pilots’ union has kept them grounded at night.

Here is an excerpt from an article in the Orange County Register:

The Orange County Fire Authority has spent nearly $100,000 on night-vision goggles and training, but months later, the agency’s helicopters remain grounded after the sun goes down as union officials and department management grapple over the technicalities of the program.

Sixteen months after the decision to order the night-vision technology, the equipment is ready. The helicopter crews are trained. But they remain tucked in at night in the midst of fire season.

Both sides are not divulging the reasons for the holdup, a benefit of confidential talks on how to implement the program and accommodate new working conditions. While the department wants to implement the night-vision technology as soon as possible, nothing can be done until the two sides can agree, said Battalion Chief Kris Concepcion. No one knows when that will be.

“We are meeting in earnest with the union and attempting to address their concerns as quickly as we can so we can start taking advantage of the additional capabilities of our helicopters,” Concepcion said.

“Flying at night has inherent risks above and beyond what occurs during the day,” said Ray Geagan, vice president of the agency’s union, the Orange County Professional Firefighters. “When our members are in harm’s way, we want to look at it as closely as possible.”

Days after the Freeway Complex fire ripped through Yorba Linda and Brea, destroying hundreds of homes last November, then-Fire Authority Chief Chip Prather raved about the night-vision goggles after testing them on a ride though local canyons. It turned night into day, he said.

Saving lives and property was why the agency fast-tracked spending $25million last April to buy two new twin-engine helicopters with night-flying capabilities. A month later, the agency’s board of directors gave the nod for spending $100,000 on night-vision goggles and training.

Eager to get a jump on training while waiting for the new helicopters to be built, mechanics retrofitted one of the agency’s 1966 Super Huey helicopters last October to give the authority’s three pilots a chance to practice night vision.

The first of the new Bell 412s with night-vision capability rolled off the assembly line as scheduled in December. The second followed two months later. The new Bell 412s, according to the agency’s 2008 annual report, give the department an “enhanced platform for reconnaissance, rescue, medical transport, and fire fighting. With advanced avionics, a digital mapping system and night vision goggle capability, the OCFA has entered a new era of ‘providing protection from above.'”


SDG&E leases Erickson Air-Crane helicopter

On September 9 Wildfire Today reported on San Diego Gas and Electric’s plans to lease a large helicopter that would be available to fight wildfires. They now have in place an Erickson Air-Crane S-64E Type 1 helicopter that can be ordered through the San Diego Fire Department. The first two hours will be free, paid by SDG&E, with any additional time costing $7,500 an hour. When the helicopter is not fighting fires, it will be used to build a new power line.Photo: Erickson Air-Crane

The helicopter is being leased through and operated by Erickson Air-Crane and will be stationed at Brown Field in Otay Mesa.

The San Diego Union-Tribune has an article that explores the relationship between SDG&E and the San Diego City Council, and how the Council supported the power company’s plan to shut off the electricity to large sections of the county during periods of high fire danger. 

Television special about Air-Cranes

How did we miss this? From Erickson Air-Crane’s web site:

The first ever one-hour documentary devoted exclusively to Erickson Air-Crane and our S-64 has premiered worldwide on the National Geographic Channel in the United Kingdom, South Africa, India, Southeast Asia, Australia, Iceland, Lithuania, and most recently in the United States on Thursday, September 17th and 24th under the title: “Aircrane: Extreme Helicopter” The program is currently scheduled to repeat through the rest of the year. The nationwide premiere of program on National Geographic Canada is scheduled for October 16th at 9 p.m. P.S.T. 

I was unable to find any future broadcast times for the program on the NGC’s web site. If anyone has information about this, let us know.


More debate about evacuation: stay or go.

The Ramona Sentinel in California has an article about evacuation…. stay or go.  Here is an excerpt:

The debate about whether to stay and attempt to defend your home or evacuate to a safe place when a wildfire strikes only has one answer in the mind of CalFire Battalion Chief Greg Griswold with the Ramona Fire Department. 

“If you are asked to evacuate, please do. It makes our job so much easier,” Griswold said. “If we know that you are still in an area, we have to keep that in the back of our minds, and worry about what you are doing and whether you are safe or not.

“I know that this is a very emotional subject and I understand that people want to stay and protect their homes—we all do. But in my experience, people who don’t evacuate panic when the fire gets there, and then they feel a need to leave. But by then, the visibility can be down to zero sometimes and they can run off the road.”

Or they block roads so that firefighters can’t get in and other residents can’t get out, said Griswold. 

“In the Witch fire in October 2007, we had no less than 40 rescue calls from people who wanted to stay and changed their mind,” Griswold said. 

And firefighters were not able to reach all of those needing help. Some homeowners survived by jumping into ponds and pools, but a couple on Highland Valley Road were not so fortunate and perished in the flames.

“We tried to get two fire engines in there to help but could not,” Griswold said. “I still think about that every day.”

But saving lives is not the only issue here.

“Rescue attempts take away valuable resources that could be spent on saving structures and trying to take the offense to suppress fire activity,” Griswold said. “As the years of drought have persisted, the burning conditions have become more critical and we have huge challenges in this area. The 2003 and 2007 fires burned hotter and faster than anything we’ve ever seen before. I think a lot of people were taken by surprise.”

Technically, fire and police officials cannot force people to leave their home against their will, unless they have minor children. And there are times that it might be safe to stay, Griswold said.

“But when an evacuation is ordered, we don’t have time to go to each homeowner and say, ‘You’ve got clearance, it’s OK for you to stay, but it’s not OK for your neighbor. They must leave.”

Senate passes bill that includes $4M for belly tanks for National Guard Blackhawk helicopters

Most of the National Guard Blackhawk helicopters that I have seen dropping water on fires have used a collapsible bucket hanging from a very short line, about 25-30′ long. The prop wash from the rotor blades blows the fire all over the place.

That’s why I was pleased to see an earmark in the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Bill that allocates $4,160,00 for fixed belly tanks for National Guard Blackhawk helicopters.

Funding would be used for engineering, evaluation and procurement of the Recoil UH-60 Blackhawk Helicopter R60 Wildland Fire-Fighting Tank System (900 gallon) for the Army National Guard (ARNG). This is in an aim to make R60 tanks become organic equipment of the ARNG be distributed nationwide to State Army National Guard to support and respond to wildland fires.