The helicopter I fly is the best initial attack firefighting helicopter in the world. I have flown at least 46 other models of helicopters and yes, there are several other good helicopters out there but none better.
My point is not to promote the Erickson Air Crane, our customers from all over the world do that for us. What I want to say is that wildfire firefighting is very much a group effort and no single asset by ground or air works nearly as well as the combined efforts of the many people and equipment that go into fighting a fire.
I have put out several fires with the S-64 but that was only my personal assessment. A fire, as anyone who has ever put out a campfire knows, is only out when the embers are wet and cold. It is impossible to determine from my vantage point if a fire is truly out and I have never turned down an offer of help on any fire I ever worked. I never will.
There are things that we all wish to be remembered for and believe me, you don’t want to be remembered as the guy who said, “we have it handled , or its out” when a restart burns up somebodies home or property. That is a ground assessment only.
Speaking of ground troops. If I were to write a general formula for the best initial attack firefighting combination it would include the following. A fast preloaded fixed wing to get on the fire to make a retardant drop and a report. The two helicopters are on their way. Two, yes, because as good as we are at targeting the fire with our helitanker, a second bucket equipped helicopter with a good Helitac crew is invaluable. Trained well equipped personnel on the ground, especially in areas inaccessible by road is important. The helicopter that brings in the crew should be equipped with a bucket. Now, I know that tank equipped helicopters are the flavor of the day and I’ll take some criticism for my opinion but I stand fast. Until they make a tank that is as light weight as a bucket and can get into every water site, then a long line and a bucket are the answer. The Helitac crew carrying helicopter needs to be moving men and equipment and if it is working with only limited water carrying capacity anyway, it will simply get into the closest water sources, which may be a place a tanked helicopter should never go. There is nothing new here.
One last thought on ground crew and equipment. We use a lot of hand labor to cut fire line and I understand that topography and tree density necessitate that fact. A D-10 bulldozer will cut a pretty impressive line that a hundred ground crew couldn’t match in a lifetime but there must be equipment that could get on the fire line sooner than it currently does. Our S-64 can and do lift some pretty large earth movers into remote areas. It seems that when conditions would warrant their use even a bobcat slung in would do a lot of good. I have slung a lot of equipment in on fires over the years. All terrain quads, pumps, hoses, gators but never anything to help cut fire line. Like I said It wouldn’t work in all cases but with a medium to large sized Helitac helicopter it could certainly sling in something to help when the fire has, or is in the transition from initial start to possibly getting larger.
Its not just about water and the amount we lay down on the fire. There are often ground fuels and certain oily type bushes that relight like a gag birthday candle no matter how much water you put down. Ground crews and soil smothering in wet soil is the most and sometimes only way to extinguish that type of fuel. Just some food for thought here .
Bottom line to all this initial attack firefighting is that the faster you can get as many effective assets as possible to the scene the better your chances are of getting a wild fire stopped. No single ground or air asset is the answer. We are all a team ,just helping out.