Public Service, Safety

LA County May Examine Increase in Fleet of Firefighting Helos

By Frank Wolfe | November 26, 2018
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A Los Angeles County Sikorsky S-70 Firehawk demonstrates water suppression during a 2013 airshow. Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Nov. 27 may consider a motion by Supervisor Kathryn Barger to examine an increase in the Los Angeles County Fire Department's fleet of firefighting helicopters.

The fleet includes three Sikorsky S-70 Firehawks, capable of 1,000-gallon water drops and emergency medical services (EMS), and five Bell 412s, able to drop 360 gallons of water and perform EMS.


Barger noted the destruction wrought by the Camp Fire, the Woolsey Fire and the Hill Fire this month in Northern and Southern California and said that "we need to reexamine the department’s aircraft program to determine where expansion may be needed."

“This analysis must be broadened to look at our current partnerships with the state under the mutual aid agreement and how resources are deployed to competing fires in various counties and jurisdictions," she said in a statement.

Five days after the outbreak of the fires Nov. 8, Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said that counties in Southern California had been able to rely on their mutual aid partners in Northern California in the past, as those northern partners typically have had "significant rain or even snow" this time of year. Yet, the three simultaneous, vast fires in Northern and Southern California indicate "we’re in climate change and it’s going to be here for the foreseeable future," Osby said.

Cal Fire has typically performed assessments to see whether it needs additional aircraft on scene, but that is sometimes no longer possible because of the fires' rapid migration.

Last month, Michael Sagely, a senior pilot and safety manager of air operations for the Los Angeles County Fire Department, said flying from fire to fire "happens a lot" for the department's S-70 Firehawks in windy conditions.

Though five Firehawks would be a good number to have to allow surge capacity, Sagely said last month that the demand in Los Angeles County could mean a fleet of 10 is warranted.

Based on the UH-60 Black Hawk, the Firehawk is equipped to endure the extreme physical stresses demanded of aerial firefighting and utility missions.

The Firehawk features next-generation technology that provides specific benefits to firefighting operators. Its features include a digital glass cockpit with flight management system for improved situational awareness, a rugged airframe and wide chord rotor blades for increased payload and maneuverability.

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