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PUTTING THE WET STUFF ON THE RED STUFF


Helicopters were first used on wildland fires in 1947. Fire managers recognized the value of the helicopter’s ability to rapidly transport personnel and cargo to battle the flames, especially in remote locations. In 1967, Lematta came onto the firefighting scene and the name Columbia Helicopters has been synonymous with helicopters and firefighting ever since.


Helicopters are extremely versatile fire management tools in that they can precisely deliver specific amounts of water and fire retardant to the fire line. Like many firefighting helicopters, the weapons in the Columbia firefighting arsenal come in the form of buckets and tanks, but not just any buckets or tanks. Think big buckets and big tanks!


Using this type of helicopter for firefighting operations requires a certain amount of innovation in order to adapt the aircraft to the many situations that can occur during firefighting missions. Over the decades, Columbia Helicopters has been on the leading edge of innovation by not only developing products and standards, but also being early adopters of new technology.


Several examples of this include:


• Participating in design changes going from Griffith buckets to Bambi Buckets.


• Using the SEI Torrentula Bambi Buckets equipped with the Powerfill System. Each bucket carries four high-speed pumps that can fill it in less than 90 seconds from water sources as shallow as 18 inches. The development of this innovative aerial firefighting product was born out of the valuable feedback received from helicopter operators, as well as from Canadian and American forest and land management agencies.


• Developing and deploying the first CH-47D internal Fire Attack System (FAS) water tank with Simplex, providing an efficient and safe tool for firefighting at the urban interface.


The CH-47D internal Fire Attack System (FAS) water tanks are very unique in that they are capable of holding 2,800 gallons (10,600 Liters) of water. The pilot can drop the load of water using multiple water-drop settings from the cockpit. Once the aircraft


is over a fire, Columbia pilots are able to drop suppressants and retardants in a variety of ways that best meet the needs of the ground firefighters. They can hit a long fire line by partially opening the FAS tank while in forward flight. Alternatively, they can open and close the gate to dispense a series of spot drops, or they can hit those stubborn hotspots with a precise, massive spot drop.


According to Bandy, “Since urban areas are right up against forested areas, the FAS tank system allows us to deliver larger quantities of water with more speed and precision. These large tanks can literally be filled in a minute or so and emptied in seconds.” The net result equates to quicker turn-arounds, which equals more wet stuff on the red stuff.


Generally speaking, the firefighting side of the business has been expanding over the last few years, due to forest fires burning hotter and longer and more frequent. “We have seen longer fire seasons in recent years,” says Bandy. Columbia typically has aircraft on contracts with ODF (Oregon Department of Forestry), CDF (California Department of Forestry), and the US Forest Service.


56


Mar/Apr 2017


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