Helitack

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Erickson Aircrane S-64 snorkeling water from a lake
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CDF Bell 205 from the Bieber Helitack crew
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Kern County Bell 205A++ Super Huey dropping water.
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A Eurocopter Ecureuil dips its bucket into a swimming pool before returning to drop the water on a wildfire outside of Naples, Italy.


Helitack refers to "helicopter-delivered fire resources",[1] and is the system of managing and using helicopters and their crews to perform firefighting duties, primarily initial attack on wildfires.[2] Helitack crews are used to attack a wildfire and gain early control of it, especially when inaccessibility would make it difficult or impossible for ground crews to respond in the same amount of time.

Terminology

Helitack

The term helitack first appeared in a 1956 Los Angeles Times article, which described the "first of a series of tests—tabbed the Helitack Program—on the use of helicopters in firefighting will start next week in the San Bernardino National Forest."[3]

Helibase

The incident Helibase is the location where the helicopters are parked, serviced, and refueled. Often, this temporary facility is located at a nearby airport, although a helibase can be in a field location near the fire. The name of the base is designated by the name of the incident, and large project fires can have more than one. An emergency crew must be on hand at a helibase for fire protection and crash rescue purposes. A helibase is designated on an incident map by a "H" in a circle.[3]

Helispot

A Helispot is a location near a fire where it is safe for helicopters to land and take off. At a designated location, a helispot manager will be onsite to coordinate the landings and take-offs as well as the loading and unloading of equipment and personnel. Helispots are temporarily located as the incident grows and can be found at parking lots, meadows and large clearings. Helispots are found on the incident map by filled in circles with the letters H-# next to it, the # designating what number it is.[3]

Drop point

A Helicopter drop point, or drop point is similar to a helispot, but used for caching ground supplies. Helicopters and large supply vehicles use the drop point to off-load supplies at the edge of an incident for the ground teams to come by and pick up. Drop points may be located all around the fire. Wildland firefighters will usually pick up sharpened tools at the drop points and some quick water, food, radio batteries, updated instructions regarding the incident. On an incident map, the symbol for a drop point is a filled dot with the letters D-# next to them with the # designating which number is it.[3]

Methodology

A helitack helicopter will launch with a ground crew onboard, drop them ahead of the fire (or "incident") where they will begin clearing a firebreak with standard handtools, while the helicopter then supports the team with water drops, either with a Bambi bucket or airframe-mounted water tanks. If the fire continues to grow beyond the initial attack phase, the mission of the helitack crew shifts to a support role, locating and operating helispots, including the coordination of the support required for other firefighting helicopters.[5]

In situation where terrain or vegetation make it impossible for a helicopter to land, helitack methodology can also employ smokejumpers, rappelling from a helicopter as high as 250 above the ground[5] or deplaning crews from a hovering helicopter.

When backfires, or "prescribed burns" are needed in remote areas, helitack helicopters can be used to start them, using a "helitorch", a driptorch suspended on a cable under the helicopter, or by dropping spherical ignition devices.[2]

In the event that a firefighter on the ground is injured, the helitack helicopter is used to evacuate the victim to a medical facility.[2]

History

Helicopters were used in combating wildfires in California as early as 1947 and their usefulness at moving personnel rapidly around a fire was quickly recognized. Initially, helicopters were just used for tactical and logistical support for ground crews.[2]

In 1957 the Los Angeles County Fire Department experimentally used a Bell 47 to lay hoses using belly-mounted trays.[7]

The first water bucket was probably developed by Jim Grady of Okanagan Helicopters working with Henry Stevenson, who owned a machine shop in Nelson, British Columbia. Development began in the mid-1950s and the "Monsoon Bucket" was operational in 1962. The bucket was a converted 45 gallon drum with a trap door in the bottom that was actuated by the pilot in flight.[8]

In the early 1960s the California Division of Forestry (now known as the California Department of Forestry) began water bucketing trials. Testing was also done on a 105 US gallon water tank mounted on a Bell 47. US federal agencies, such as the BLM and the USFS also began contracting commercial helicopter services to assist in fighting wildfires on land s they were responsible for in the early 1960s.[7]

The California Department of Forestry began experimenting with helitack as a doctrinal concept in 1960, when a crew of three firefighters were deployed on a Alouette III helicopter.

Crews

Crew sizes vary from base to base and agency to agency.

Helitack crews are often considered to be elite members of the firefighting community, partly because of the experience levels required to qualify as a crew member. CDF Captain Jim Barthol, in an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune, used the analogy of runners in a race to compare helitack with other hand crews. He said that "ground-based hand crews are marathon runners, while helitack crews work more like sprinters. Other hand crews might spend three days or more fighting a fire, we might work three different incidents in one day. It doesn't necessarily make us better than those other guys. It just makes us different."

Much of the helitack crews' training centers on helicopter safety, as the crews typically load and unload with the rotors turning, and sometimes in very rough terrain, where only the skid on one side can be touched down.[5]

Equipment

Helicopters used for helitack missions are usually utility helicopters, selected for both their lifting capability as well as their large cabin size to accommodate the helitack crew.

Some of the most common helicopter types are variants of the venerable UH-1 Huey, known in the civilian world as the Bell 205, especially upgraded variants such as the 205A++ and the 210. The twin-engine Bell 212 is also popular. Other helicopters such as the Sikorsky S-58 are also used, and the S-70 Firehawk, a civilian version of the military's UH-60 Blackhawk, is now being operated by two agencies in the U.S.

Smaller helicopters, such as the Bell 206 JetRanger and AS350 Astar are sometimes used for precision water drops to protect specific structures, such as cabins or homes.

Larger water dropping helicopters such as the S-64 Skycrane, which can hold as much as 3,000 gallons, rivaling fixed-wing airtankers, are increasingly being used. Only some of these larger rotorcraft have provisions for carrying ground crews, therfore may not always considered "helitack" aircraft in the true sense of the word. Some Type One rotorcraft, such as the Boeing 234, can carry up to 44 passengers in proper configuration. [9]

Water tanks are often permanently or semi-permanently mounted under the helicopter's belly, which can either be filled at a helispot via a hose from a fire engine, or with a "snorkel", a long hose with a water pump in its end that can suck water out of a lake or small tank set up by fire crews.[5]

The helitack crews use the same tools on the fire lines as other ground crews do, including chain saws, axes, shovels and a specialized, two-headed cutting tool known as a Pulaski.

US classification system

In the U.S., helitack helicopters are designated by "type", as defined by the Interagency Helicopter Operations Guide, based on their capacities:[10]

Type 1 2 3
Allowable payload, standard conditions5,000 lbs2,500 lbs1,200 lbs
Passenger seats15+9 - 144 - 8
Water/retardant700 gallons300 gallons100 gallons
Max takeoff/landing weights12,501+ lbs6,000 - 12,500 lbsless than 6,000 lbs

Canadian classification system

Since forest protection is a provincial responsibility in Canada each province has its own system for classifying helicopters for contract use, setting equipment standards and for employing them.

A typical system is the one used by Manitoba. The Manitoba Department of Natural Resources has established a stand-by system for all aircraft contracted for forest fire protection missions. This consists of five levels of readiness, depending on the fire forecast and the time of day:
  • Red Alert: Crews are at the base with the aircraft serviced, fuelled and ready for immediate dispatch.
  • Yellow Alert: Crews can be contacted and be at the base within fifteen minutes. The aircraft is fuelled. Minor aircraft servicing is permitted. The aircraft must be airborne within 30 minutes of receiving the dispatch call.
  • Blue 1: The crews can be contacted and the aircraft can be airborne within one hour of receiving a dispatch call. Routine servicing and maintenance of the aircraft are permitted.
  • Blue 2: The crews can be contacted and the aircraft airborne within two hours of receiving a dispatch call. Routine servicing and maintenance of the aircraft are permitted.
  • Green Stand-down.[11]
Manitoba Department of Natural Resources classifies contract helicopters in two classifications:
  • Medium Lift Helicopter
  • Light Lift Helicopter
The province also sets equipment standards for these contract helicopters, which are similar to others used across Canada:

Medium-lift helicopter

  • VHF-FM Radio Communication Transceiver operating on 118-136 Mhz.
  • VHF-FM "hi band" radio receiver capable of operating on the Department of Natural Resources' assigned frequencies (160-165 Mhz). The radio shall have dual tone multi-frequency encoding capability.
  • Crew intercom with 4 headsets and air to ground communications capability on VHF-AM and FM from at least both front seat locations.
  • Cargo hook
  • Two 12 foot × 12 foot nets
  • Two lanyards
  • One barrel net.
  • 320 imperial gallon capacity collapsible water bucket with foam injection capability.
  • Skid landing gear with bear paws.
  • Portable refuelling pump.
  • Global Positioning System[12]

Light-lift helicopter

  • VHF-AM Radio Communication Transceiver 118-136 MC.
  • VHF-FM "hi band" radio able to operate on the Department of Natural Resources' assigned frequencies (160-165 Mhz) with dual tone multi-frequency encoding capability.
  • Two head sets, intercom and air to ground communication.
  • Cargo hook
  • Two slings or cargo nets.
  • Water bucket with instant deployment system.
  • High skid gear with bear paws.
  • Electrical plug with related 50 ampere circuit breaker suitable for use with Heli-Torch.
  • Model MS-3102A-16 Cannon plug with related 10 ampere circuit breaker conveniently located for use with provincial Aga 750 infrared scanning equipment.
  • Global Positioning System.[12]

Incidents

  • September 13, 2004 - a seven-member CDF helitack crew fighting a fire in the Stanislaus National Forest in northern California was overtaken by flames in a wind shift that lasted for only 30 seconds. One firefighter was killed, and the other six were injured, some critically.[5]

See also

References

1. ^ "Fire Program Analysis - Initial Response Module: Helitack Deployment", Fire Program Analysis, National Interagency Fire Center
2. ^ U.S. Forest Service glossary
3. ^ "Fire-Fighting Copter Tests Start in Forest", Los Angeles Times, June 10, 1956, page A23, cited at the Double-Tongued Dictionary, accessed October15, 2007
4. ^ NIMS 3.04
5. ^ Gross, Gregory A. "Elite, mobile fire crew might soon be permanent here", ''San Diego Union-Tribune, November 16], 2004, accessed October 15, 2007]
6. ^ "Helicopters: Multitasking aircraft", U.S. Department of Forestry
7. ^ Smith, Barry D.: Fire Bombers in Action, pages 51-71. Motorbooks International Publishers, 1995. ISBN 0-7603-0043-7
8. ^ Corley-Smith, Peter and David N. Parker: Helicopters in the High Country - 40 Years of Mountain Flying, page 50. Sono Nis Press, Victoria BC, 1995. ISBN 1-55039-061-9
9. ^ [1]
10. ^ Interagency Helicopter Operations Guide, March 2006, Chapter 6
11. ^ Manitoba Department of Natural Resources, Operations Division, Fire Program: Pilot Briefing Handbook MG-2261 (rev 3.96), page 23. Government of Manitoba, 1996
12. ^ Manitoba Department of Natural Resources, Operations Division, Fire Program: Pilot Briefing Handbook MG-2261 (rev 3.96), page 33. Government of Manitoba, 1996

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A wildfire, also known as a wildland fire, forest fire, vegetation fire, grass fire, peat fire ("gambut" in Indonesia), bushfire (in Australasia), or hill fire
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Wildland firefighting requires different tactics, equipment, and training from the normal structure fire fighting found in populated areas.
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Los Angeles County Fire Department


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Manufacturer Bell Helicopter
Designed by Arthur M. Young
Maiden flight 8 December 1945
Introduced 1946
Primary users United States Army
British Army
Variants Bell 201
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Type Multipurpose light helicopter
Manufacturer Bell Helicopter
Designed by Arthur M. Young
Maiden flight 8 December 1945
Introduced 1946
Primary users United States Army
British Army
Variants Bell 201
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Retired 2004
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Manufacturer Bell Helicopter Textron
Maiden flight October 22, 1956
Introduction 1959
Primary users United States Army
Japan Ground Self-Defense Force
Royal Australian Air Force
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Manufacturer Bell Helicopter Textron
Maiden flight October 22, 1956
Introduced 1959
Developed from UH-1 Iroquois
Variants Bell 212
Bell 214

The Bell 204 and 205
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Manufacturer Bell Helicopter
Introduced 1968
Primary user CHC Helicopter
Developed from Bell 204/205
Variants UH-1N Twin Huey
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Type helicopter
Manufacturer Sikorsky Aircraft
Maiden flight March 8, 1954.
Primary users United States Army
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Developed from H-19 Chickasaw
Variants Westland Wessex The Sikorsky H-34 Choctaw
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Type Medium-lift transport/utility helicopter
Manufacturer Sikorsky
Maiden flight 1974
Introduced 1979
Status Active service
Primary users United States Army
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Manufacturer Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation
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Introduced 1979
Status Active service
Primary users United States Army
Australian Army
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Manufacturer Bell Helicopter Textron
Introduced 1967
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Primary users United States Army
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Introduced 1975
Produced 1975 to date
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