News: Controlling the burn
Story by Maj. Will Cox
ARMY AVIATION SUPPORT FACILITY NO. 1, WINDER, Ga. – As summer approaches, Georgia Guardsmen spent part of April learning how to fight forest fires near Athens with a 660-gallon water bucket attached to a Blackhawk helicopter in an effort to protect life and property from wild fires.
“We provide a responsive capability to the fire fighters on the ground,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Daniel Button, Charlie Company, 1-185th Assault Helicopter Battalion’s instructor pilot. “We can get water and deploy it where others simply can’t go, and often in minutes depending on the location of a nearby stream or lake.”
The water bucket mission is a true air-crew effort where the pilots must be knowledgeable of their aircraft’s capabilities, ensuring there is power available to lift a 4,500+ pound water bucket. And the crew chiefs need to be proficient at deploying the water on the designated target, adjusting for the aircraft’s current speed and altitude.
“The pilots are flying the aircraft, but once the dip site or the drop site goes under the nose, the crew chiefs are our eyes at that point, guiding the aircraft into the right place to dip or deploy the water,” said Button. “Crew coordination is essential between the pilots and the crew chiefs.”
If there is a forest fire, the Georgia Forestry Commission is in charge and would request assistance through the Georgia Emergency Management Agency who would task the Georgia Army National Guard for firefighting assistance.
“When there is a runaway wild fire we bring in ground and air assets to surround the fire with breaks to take away the fuel and let the fire burn itself out,” said Emerson Melton district pilot with the Georgia Forestry Commission. “Helicopters are the quickest and generally the only way to get water into areas to put out spot fires and protect our ground teams as they build fire breaks.”
The air crewmembers completed the hands on portion of the training this day. Earlier in the week the Ga. Forestry Commission instructed Charlie Company, 1-185th Assault Helicopter Battalion’s Guardsmen on the theory of fighting forest fires by deploying water on the flanks or head of the burn to help the ground team’s bulldozers build the needed fire breaks.
“The Forestry Commission tells us where to deploy the water,” said Sgt. Ryan Leone, C/1-185th AHB Flight Instructor. “Usually we put out the fingers of fires line or spot fires that develop in order to keep the guys on the ground from being enveloped by fire as they direct the burn.”
The Ga. Forestry Commission will generally have a spotter plane overhead providing the Forestry Commission’s ground team with real time surveillance of where the forest fire has spread too. The Forestry Commission uses this information to coordinate the ground and air assets to contain and control the fire in the most efficient manner.
“This is what the National Guard is all about,” said Button. “Being ready to provide services like this to other government agencies.”