Public Service

Montana Wants its State Helos to be First on Scene for Federal Land Fires

By S.L. Fuller | July 13, 2017

The Montana Environmental Quality Council said July 5 it was considering sending a letter to the federal government, concerning a conflict between the Forest Service and federal government over aerial firefighting. Montana Public Radio reported that the council voted in favor of sending that letter to secretaries of the U.S. departments of Agriculture and Interior, unanimously, at its July 12 meeting.

According to the council, that state’s Bell Helicopter UH-1Hs are not classified as approved aircraft for initial attack on federal lands. This prompted the dispute between the federal government and the Forest Service. According to Montana Public Radio, this has been an ongoing problem for multiple years.

The Montana Public Radio article said that federal land makes up some 29% of the state. According to the article, David Smith from the Dept. of Agriculture said that federal officials inspected the helicopters in 2015 and found they were not up to national standards. The helicopters could still be used on federal land when human lives are in danger, the article said, but the state wants to be able to use the helicopters as soon as a fire starts.

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“The [Dept. of Interior] and the [U.S. Forest Service] inspect and approve vendor personnel and equipment for interagency use,” states the 2016 Interagency Helicopter Operations Guide, published by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group. “With the exception of life-threating situations or undercover law enforcement missions, personnel must not fly with pilots or in aircraft that have not been approved.”

Aircraft, pilots, fuel service vehicles and mechanics may be approved for interagency use, the document continues, if they meet Memorandum of Understand for Interagency Fire Helicopter Standards, if they meet the standards in the procurement document and if they possess a current Interagency Helicopter Pilot Qualification Card of Letter of Approval.

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