Friday, July 31, 2009

wildland fire crews: a tribute

Enjoy, this video is a tribute to wildland firefighters everywhere.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Wildland fire crews: what they may be up against

This is a video called, Firestorm 2007 (California wildfires). I want to thank TL Stein for sending me this link. Please go here to read comments by some who were on ground crews fighting these fires and words of those who lived where these fires raged.

I asked TL Stein, how do you fight that thing. He said very carefully.

Remember that air attack does what they do to support the crews on the ground.

Monday, July 27, 2009

wildland fire crews: safety, equipment and types of crews

The most important thing is safety, and to that end there is an acronym, LCES, that every wildland firefighter is familiar with:

Escape routes
Safety zone

In addition, every wildland firefighter knows the 10 standard order and the 18 situations that cry watchout. I wrote about this here.

As for the equipment that they carry and the protective clothing that they wear, go to this webpage from what I think was an episode on Nova (PBS in America) called the Fire Wars. Here you will see a picture and a description of each piece of clothing, protective equipment, and some of the equipment that wildland firefighters carry in their packs.

The U.S. government hires men and women to fill different kinds of firejobs. A list of these firejobs, along with a brief description of each may be found here (seasonal), and for information on permanent jobs go here. For more on hand crews including a brief discussion on the five different levels of hand crews, see this webpage. Information about hotshots, also known as type 1 IHC crews may be found here.

Finally, if you are interested in a brief discussion of what is involved in applying for federal and/or state/local wildland fire crews, see this webpage from the National Wildfire Coordinatiing Group . For example, the Idaho Department of Lands, Fire Management Division has a nice webpage that can be found here with a link to a job page, CAL FIRE's career page is here with links to other related pages, and last but by no means least, for information about wildland firefighting jobs with the NJ Forest Fire Service go here.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

wildland fire (ground) crews: upcoming

I have finished, at least for the time being, writing about what I call the intersection of aviation resources and ground crews: helitack and smokejumpers. I considered this part 1, and am now ready to move to part 2 where I will be posting on what ground crews do. As was the case in part 1, I consider this upcoming series of posts on what ground crews to be a brief overview at best where I will be relying heavily on resources available on the internet. My overview probably will not cover all aspects of what ground crews do when they fight wildland fires, but I hope that I will provide you with a basic idea of what is involved.

You may recall my recent post on what air attack does where I wrote:

aerial fire fighting resources and the people who fly them as well as those who provide support operations do what they do to support the crews on the ground who work to contain, control, and mop-up wildland fires. Or to put it another way, air attack (air tankers and helicopters) supplements ground crews and slows the fire until the ground crews can get to it. In what is known as extended attack on a fire, you will have both ground crews and air attack working a fire.

Before closing I will offer one of the ways that I learn about what wildland fire crews do. Last fall when I first knew that I wanted to learn more about wildland firefighting, I started to read books on the subject.

Followers of this blog will know that on the recommendation of a knowledgeable friend, I read Norman Maclean’s Young Men and Fire on the 1949 Mann Gulch Fire where 13 wildland firefighters died. I also read and wrote about two books by Norman’s son, John. I found Fire and Ashes at my local library. Curious, because I knew that John was Norman’s son, I checked out the book. I knew that John Maclean, who had a background in journalism, had written other books. By this time I had heard about the 1994 fire on Storm King Mountain in CO where 14 wildland firefighters died. Curious, I purchased John Maclean’s book on this fire, Fire on the Mountain.

Wanting to read more, and curious about books that wildland firefighters liked, I turned to the webpage on fire books at . I have been reading some of the books listed there. Some of these books are noted below.

I have already read and posted on Fire in Their Eyes by Karen Magnunson Beil.

I am in the process of reading Fire on the Rim by Stephen J. Pyne. Dr. Pyne is a professor of American Studies at Arizona State University West in Phoenix. He is the author of many, many books on wildfires and environmental history. In Fire on the Rim, he writes about a firefighters season at the north rim of the Grand Canyon, based on his 15 summers as a firefighter on the North Rim.

There are other books that I are in my pile of books to read, including but not limited to Jumping Fire by Murry A. Taylor, and On the Fireline by Matthew Desmond. Taylor is a smokejumper, Desmond worked on a wildland fire (ground) crew. After I read these two books and finish Pyne’s Fire on the Rim, I’ll try to remember to write a post mentioning what I have learned from each of these books. And when I am done reading those books, I can start on other fire books in my "too read" pile.

Finally, I don’t leave aerial wildland firefighters out. There do not seem to be as many books around about aerial firefighting, but one that was recommended by a friend that may no longer be in print is Fire Bombers in Action by Barry D. Smith (1995, published by Motorbooks International). I picked up a copy on Amazon. I have only skimmed the book, but I can say that I like it, and there are some wonderful pictures in the book.

Perhaps some of you will find one or more of these books useful if you want to learn more about wildland fire fighting. Or perhaps you are reading or have read one or more of the many other fine books on wildland fire fighting that I have not mentioned here.

Friday, July 24, 2009

RIP Thomas "TJ" Marovich

Thomas "TJ" Marovich, 20, from Hayward CA died on July 21in a routine heli-rappell training exercise while he was assigned to the Backbone Fire.

For more information go here and here.

TJ was an employee of the Modoc National Forest, they issued a press release, which may be found here.

My condolences go out to TJ's family, crew, friends, and the rest of the wildland fire fighting community.

upcoming posts

I will only have intermittent, if any, access to the internet over the next couple of weeks. But I have already written articles on wildland (ground) fire crews scheduled to post approximately every other day or so. So stay tuned.

A day in the life of a smokejumper

This video, Jump This, shows the day in the life of McCall smokejumper, starting with loading parachutes to jumping out of the aircraft to fighting the fire.

With this video, I end the series on smokejumping.

Stay tuned for a series on wildland fire (ground) crews starting tomorrow.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

helitack and rappellers redux

My last post on smokejumpers will post tomorrow. In the meantime, I ran across two articles today that I want to pass on to you.

The first an article reporting the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Black Hills Interagency Helitack (South Dakota).

The second article, on rappelling may be found here. The author discusses the history and some details on training and the like. Check it out!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Erickson Air-Crane Elvis going to EAA airventure

Just heard from Kenny Chapman that an Erickson AirCrane is going to the EAA airventure airshow in Wisconsin from July 27 through Aug. 2. So I checked the Erickson website, and found a link to this article reporting that the AirCrane known as Elvis will be at the show. I was also interested in the article for the short history of Elvis. Take a couple of minutes to read the article to learn a little more about Elvis

Sounds like a lot of fun, and if I was going to be any where near the vicinity I would go. But I will be no where near Wisconsin. Darn.

But airventure will have a presence on the web, so those of you who are so inclined may want to go here. Alas, I will be away from reliable internet access next week and the week after, so I will probably not be able to post any updates about Elvis' presence at airventure here.

But I do have articles scheduled to post while I am in the blackhole so stay tuned.

Smokejumpers: history

I don’t know about you, but history fascinates me. I have come across some resources on the web relating to the history of smokejumping, and I am passing these links on to you. The embedded video above is from the National Archives DVD, Smoke Jumper Training for Airborne Fire Fighting in Missoula, Montana in 1949.

The National Smokejumper Association has an excellent website with a variety of wondeful information about smokejumping. Check it out.

If you are interested in the history behind some of the individual smokejumper bases, check out these sites:
Old, outdate links removed (8/2/15), sorry. I'll work on an updated article on the history of smokejumpers with (hopefully) more current information and links.

Monday, July 20, 2009

About smokejumping: part 2 of 2

This is good short news piece (about 2 minutes) on the Redmond smokejumpers. If you want to know more about the Redmond smokejumpers go here.

For more information about what the life of a smokejumper is like, see this four minute video by Scott Wickland of the North Cascades Smokejumper base in Wintrop,WA.

Finally, a short profile, written in 2004, of two smokejumpers -- a thirty year veteran and a women with 15 years experience may be found here.

Friday, July 17, 2009

About smokejumping: part 1 of 2

I want to move on from the introduction to smokejumping to the first of two posts about smokejumping. The focus of these two posts are two videos that I found on youtube. In this video, Missoula Smokejumper 2005, you will hear smokejumper Skodt Jones talk about what smokejumpers do, the aircraft used to transport smokejumpers, and the equipment that they carry, and additional cargo carried by the jump aircraft.

More information on the Missoula Smokejumpers may be found here.

In my next post on July 20, I will embed another video, a short news piece about the smokejumpers in Redmond Oregon. On July 22, I will post an article with some information about the history of smokejumping. I will end this series on smokejumping with a final post, content to be determined, on July 24.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Smokejumpers: Intro

Smokejumpers parachute into remote regions that are often not easily accessible by ground or helicopter access to provide initial attack on wildland fires. Once all the jumpers have parachuted near the fire, the equipment and tools along with food and water are dropped by parachute. If necessary, the jumpers can be completely self-sufficient for the two days on the fire. See this webpage for more information.

Some 270 smokejumpers are based at seven US Forest Service bases and two Bureau of Land Management bases around the country. They are known as national resources, meaning that they are available to fight fires around the country, including Alaska. Since 1981 when the first women smokejumper completed her training in Boise Idaho, the smoke jumping corp is made up of both men and women. The nine bases (with links for more information) are:

US Forest Service
McCall, Idaho
Grangeville, Idaho
Redding, California
West Yellowstone, Montana
Missoula, Montana
Winthrop, Washington
Redmond, Oregon

Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
Boise, Idaho
Fairbanks, Alaska [note smoke jumpers in Alaska are a branch of the Alaska Fire Service and the BLM]

Information about some of the smokejumper aircraft may be found here.

I will be writing more articles about smokejumpers, so stay tuned.

Monday, July 13, 2009


Direct link to video

Some helitack crews do what is known as heli-rappelling. Heli-rappelling, according to the Interagency Helicopter Rappel Guide (IHRG) is

the deployment of personnel from a hovering helicopter by means of an approved rope, descent device and supplementary equipment. Rappelling is comprised of a smooth, controlled expeditious descent to the ground.

Among other things, the IHRG, discusses required qualifications and training, equipment, rappel operations, and cargo letdown operations. There is also a section with definitions. I spent a little time this morning skimming this document to get an idea of federal helicopter rappel operations.

May 16, 2016. The video that I originally embedded here is no longer available on youtube, so I have replaced it with a video of the Salmon River Helirapplers 2009 season

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Martin Mars landed at Lake Elsinore

Just checking the Press_Enterprise, the Martin Mars has landed at Lake Elsinore. See this article.

Martin Mars set to arrive at Lake Elsinore

The Martin Mars is due to arrive at Lake Elsinore, CA around 4 or 5 PM PDT after an eight hour flight from British Columbia. It will be based at Lake Elsinore where it will be available to the US Forest Service to drop up to 7,200 gallons of a water/gel mixture on fires. See this Press-Enterprise article for more details.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

This is an excellent short "documentary" by the Nevada (State) Division of Forestry's Air Operations based in Minden, Nevada. Here you will hear personnel such as the air operations supervisor, the helicopter manager and others talk about the role of helitack in initial attack. They also talk about their helicopters. Sit back and enjoy the show.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Update: Evergreen 747 and Martin Mars

I am interrupting my series on helitack with an update on the status of the Evergreen 747 super tanker and the Martin Mars.

When I wrote about the Evergreen 747 super tanker here, this very large air tanker had received interim certification from the Interagency Air Tanker Board, but was not yet under contract with a public fire fighting agency.

According to a July 9 article in the Press-Enterprise CAL FIRE signed a contract with Evergreen International Aviation for use in fighting wildfires. Recall that the Evergreen 747 carries up to 20,000 gallons of water or retardant. This is almost seven times the capacity of the Lockheed P-3 tankers capable of carrying up to 3,000 gallons of retardand. For a point of comparison, the DC-10 tankers carry 12,000 gallons of retardant while the Martin Mars can carry 7,200 gallons of water/foam.

Speaking of the Martin Mars, according to the Press-Enterprise, there is no word on if or when the Martin Mars will arrive at Lake Elsinore where the plan would be based under the agreement between Coulson Tankers, owners of the two Martin Mars tankers, and the US Forest Service. The Press_Enterprise article on the Martin Mars may be found here, and my earlier articles, including this one, on the Martin Mars can be found here.

Updated on August 3, 2015: Links to Press Enterprise articles left in article, but they no longer work. I did access these articles at the time I wrote this article in July, 2009. According to Bill Gabbert's May 2nd (2014) article on Fire Aviation it seems that  has Evergreen declared bankruptcy.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

CAL FIRE helitack

CAL FIRE has helitack operations around the State. This is a short video highlighting Ramona helitack's 2007 wildfire season. Ramona helitack is based in southern California in the San Diego area. Enjoy the video.

Ryan helitack (based at Ryan Air Attack Base in Riverside County, CA) has a very good webpage, with links, describing their helitack operations. Remember that CAL FIRE helitack is all risk, meaning they do nonfire activities, such as rescues. You might wabt to spend some time exploring this webpage.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

No PSOB for contract pilots and crew

Up until fairly recently, I only had a vague notion that the families of police officers, fireman, and other public safety officers who died in the line of duty received death benefits. Further after receiving the lump sum death benefits under the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program (PSOB) (current benefit is $303,064), spouses and children are eligible for educational assistance under the Public Safety Officers’ Educational Assistance Program. Finally public safety officers’ who receive injuries in the line of duty that result in permanent and total disability are eligible for disability benefits under the PSOB program.

The PSOB program and its benefits, as described in this document, can not take away the pain that comes with the death of a loved one in the line of duty. It can not take away the physical and emotional pain that comes with a permanent disability. But these monetary benefits can take away some of the sting. With these benefits comes acknowledgement as well as financial benefits.

But there is a catch, one group of firefighters who do not receive PSOB benefits: those who work under contract to public firefighting agencies and are not employees of federal, state, or local (public) agencies involved with wildland fire management and suppression. As I understand it, the Bureau of Justice Assistance within the U.S. Department of Justice, the agency that administers the PSOB program, has ruled that air tanker pilots and crew are not eligible for benefits under the PSOB program because they are contractors and are not direct employees of federal, state, and local (public) wildland fire fighting agencies.

In 2007 two U.S. Senators, Enzi (R-WYO) and Feinstein (D-CA) introduced the Aerial Firefighter Relief Act of 2007 that would of provided benefits under the PSOB program to aerial firefighters (pilots and crew) working under contract for public agencies and suffer death or disability. Similar legislation was introduced at the same time in the House of Representatives. For more information on this attempted legislation see this newspaper article and Sen. Feinstein’s press release about the legislation. To the best of my knowledge, this legislation was not passed.

For years, organizations involved with aerial firefighters, including but not limited to the California Fire Pilots Association and the Associated Airtanker Pilots have been trying to get PSOB Program benefits for aerial firefighters. To date their efforts have not been successful.

To the best of my knowledge, no aerial fire fighters dying in the line of duty have received Public Safety Officer Benefits. Aerial firefighters and other contract public safety officers deserve the same benefits as policeman, firefighters, and other public safety officers. All I can say is that I think it is wholly unacceptable that aerial fire fighters and other contract public safety officers are not eligible for PSOB Program benefits. As I say this, my words feel wholly inadequate.

What these aerial firefighters, male and female, do is very dangerous, and many have died. To read about the stories of the experiences of the families of a couple of air tanker pilots who died in the line of duty, read this 2002 msnbc report. I point you to this report so that you may read about the experiences of these affected families. The experiences of the families are still relevant, but the various State level politics that msnbc reports on may be dated. See also this 2004 testimony of an air tanker pilot widow before Congress.

I hope that this changes and there may be hope on the horizon. You may recall that I wrote here about the tanker 09 crash killing the pilot and crew. Tanker 09 was flying a CAL FIRE fire when they crashed. The Chief of CAL FIRE, Del Waters, has signed the PSOB applications of the tanker 09 families. Good for him. See this thread on the Associated Airtanker Pilots website for more information. There is hope that this will mean that the Dept. of Justice will approve the tanker 09 PSOB applications. Time will tell. We can only hope.

Nor have I forgotten about the families of tanker 42 that crashed in late April of this year while on a firefighting mission resulting in the death of the pilot and crew. They too deserve PSOB Program benefits.

more helitack posts to come

I have three more posts that I plan to make on helitack.

1. CAL FIRE helitack
2. helitack, State of Nevada
3. heli-rappelling

I plan to continue with these helitack posts tomorrow so stay tuned.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Helitack crew member training

Wildland firefighting, including helitack, requires a high (or arduous) level of physical fitness. So, prior to the start of crew assignments for the upcoming fire season helitack crew, like other ground fire fighting crew members, have to pass what is known as a pack test (also known as a work capacity test). The specific work capacity test depends on what level of physical conditioning is required for the specific fire fighting job and must be passed annually. The helitack requires an arduous level of physical fitness with the associated required work capacity test being a three mile hike on level ground carrying a 45 pound pack in 45 minutes or less. For more information on the pack test and other work capacity tests see this document.

Physical fitness training does not stop with the pack test, but continues throughout the season as does related firefighting skills training. One example of ongoing firefighting skills and physical fitness training may be found on this webpage of the Coeur d’Alene Helitack Crew (Idaho Department of Lands). Another example of skills training is shown in the above embedded video. Finally, the Zion helitack crew maintains an “unofficial” blog . They write about the two week training period that takes place at the beginning of their season in these blog entries:

May 13, 2009: Week 1 train-up
May 16, 2009: Week 1 photos
May 24, 2009: Week 2 photos

To my friends in America, happy fourth of july!

Friday, July 03, 2009

update on De Luz fire (CA-RRU-De Luz)

The folk at wildlandfire have a new thread with more updates, including a link to a video report on the fire from this morning.

For your convenience, this is the link to the video.

helicopters working fire in CA

This is a link to a short video of a fixed tank helicopter and a helicopter and bucket working a fire (CA-RRU-De Luz)in the De Luz area in Temecula, California.

This fire was first reported on July 2. See this link from the wildlandfire initial attack hotlist forum. And for more recent posts about the fire, here is a post to this same thread, in its entirety.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

About helitack

I spent a couple of hours the other day watching a wide assortment of videos about helitack operations, mostly on youtube. I learned a lot about what helitack means through these videos. I will be including some of these videos in this post as well as my upcoming posts.

In composing my upcoming posts on helitack I will rely less on the written word and more on videos, pictures, and other internet resources.

I don't know about you, but I think that one picture or video is worth a thousand words. Enjoy this video, "Craigmont helitack 2007".

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Intro to helitack

What is helitack? I looked at a couple of sources, the Interagency Standards for Fire and Aviation Operations Guide aka Red Book (chapter 16 on aviation), the Interagency Helicopter Operations Guide (glossary), to name a couple, to see how helitack was defined. The result is this definition:

Helitack: helicopter attack. The use of helicopters to transport crews, equipment, and fire retardants or suppressants (class A foam) to the fireline during initial attack. The term also refers to the crew that performs helicopter management and attack activities. Helitack crews may also be used in “all risk” activities such as search and rescue, law enforcement and medical transportation.

I have already written about the role helicopters play in initial attack with foam/water drops, either by fixed tank helicopters or helicopters with bambi buckets. The Erickson AirCrane is an example of the role of retardant carrying helitankers in extended attack. I want to spend a little time talking about the role helicopters play in transporting crews (aka helitack crews) and equipment to fires.

Where federal agencies are concerned, helitack crew size varies by agency. The National Park Service and the US Forest Services sets their crew size regionally while the minimum Bureau of Land Management (BLM) crew size for exclusive use contracts is seven (supervisor, assistant, squad leader, and four temporaries).

As for State agencies, I believe that California has nine helitack crews at various locations through out the State -- including one based at Ryan-Hemet Air Attack base -- with ten crew members each (not including the pilot). See this CAL FIRE document for more information. Idaho (Idaho Department of Lands) has a helitack crew with 7 to 9 crew members based in Coeur D’ Alene Air Terminal in Hayden, Idaho.

I am still working out the other posts that I will be making in this series on helitack. But, please stay tuned for more.

Regarding the video that I embedded, it is a two minute highlight reel of the Fort Howes 2005 helitack season. I went searching for Fort Howes helitack on the internet. According to this post, the equipment and crew of this helitack base may have moved to Miles City, MT in 2007.

Note: At the time of this posting, the links that I provided for the Red Book and the Interagency Helicopter Operations Guide, both at, were down. But they did work earlier today.


Redbook (2009) Chapter 16: Aviation Operations, accessed on June 30, 2009 from
Interagency Helicopter Operations Guide (2006), Glossary, accessed on June 30 2009 from