The following is the partial definition of the wildland firefighting term that is the title for this blog and governs a lot of the firefighting I have done in the U.S.A. with helicopters of various types.
Initial attack is the aggressive response to a wildland fire based on values to be protected, benefits of response, and reasonable cost of response. These incidents are those that are controlled by initial attack forces without the need for major reinforcements and within the first operational period. Initial attack involving the commitment of resources across recognized dispatch boundaries must comply with the following guidelines and on and on…
The guidelines are complex and I hope they are understood by the people who have to live by them . I am glad that I just have to fly the helicopter.
Initial attack helicopter firefighting is used in all the other countries that I fly as well and its definition would go like this: There is a fire. Go put it out, NOW!
I am sure there are more complex guidelines for the countries in Europe that I fly but a dispatch to a wildfire often means that most of the available air assets both fixed wing and helicopter will be sent.
The result of this truly aggressive response has meant that quite often we arrive with our Helitanker on a 2 hectare fire only to have been preceded by two CL415 water bombers and joined by another helicopter.
The biggest risk to firefighting in European countries is from mid air collisions. In a slow fire season such over response to small fires would be deemed wasteful in the U.S.A. Maybe so, but when that 2 hectare fire sits between hillside towns over looking the Mediterranean, the folks who live in those towns just want the fire out and quickly.
My point to this comparison is that I believe the time has come in the United States to have greater firefighting assets positioned in wildland areas that are adjacent to urban areas . Cities like San Diego, San Bernadino and Los Angeles have their own firefighting air assets and they are doing the best they can with what they have. A down turn in the economy is not going to help these cities and so the burden falls on the State,but mostly to the Federal government to help, where regulation allows them to do so.
Will federally and state funded helicopters and fixed wing sit idly by most of the time. I hope so. Its insurance. Effective initial attack will hopefully prevent those times when God forbid ,wildfires hit the urban areas creating the kind of firestorms that I have seen and hope to never see again.
We have billions of dollars to spend protecting other countries from themselves. It is time to put serious Federal money behind protecting ourselves from wildfires here at home.