Public Service

U.S. Fire Depts. Add Helicopters

By Staff Writer | May 1, 2008
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Two fire departments in the United States are expanding their aerial firefighting capabilities with the addition of new helicopters.

The Chicago Fire Dept. last month unveiled its new Bell Helicopter 412EP. It joins an older 412EP that has been flown by sworn firefighters of the 5,000-member agency since 2001. Both are tasked with search and rescue in Lake Michigan, fireground surveillance, forward command and control duties, and the transportation of public safety personnel and their gear to incident scenes. Specialized equipment on board includes FLIR Systems’s Ultra 8500 thermal imager, Spectrolab’s NightSun searchlight, Bendix King avionics, Technisonic’s TDFM-615 encoded air-to-ground radios, Free Flite’s Approach Plus GPS with search pattern software, an Avalex moving map system, and a Breeze-Eastern 600-lb hoist.


On the West Coast, the San Diego, Calif. Fire Dept. has begun a search for experienced pilots to staff a new Bell 412EP to be added to the Bell 212 it operates for firefighting, SAR, and medical evacuation missions. Fire commanders want to bring three pilots aboard before the August arrival of the new aircraft and the onset of wild fires often associated with Santa Ana winds.

San Diego is seeking pilots with a minimum of 4,000 hr of turbine helicopter time, with at least 1,500 as pilot-in-command in mountainous terrain. Vertical reference flying with a 100-ft-long line, as well as night-vision goggle experience, is highly desirable, since a large portion of the agency’s work involves conducting long-line water drops and night operations over 300 sq mi of urban and desert terrain.

Originally, San Diego contracted aerial firefighting aircraft and services from a private company, using SDFD personnel to serve as non-flying crew members. But in July 2005, the agency purchased a Bell 212 from the company and staffed it with its own pilots as a wholly-owned unit of the department. — Ernie Stephens

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