Copter Operations Expanded
—Los Angeles County F.D. photos.
The Los Angeles County Fire Department has expanded its pioneer helicopter operations program with new tactics and a new operating base.
The new base to service the department’s five helicopters has been completed at the County’s Pacoima Fire Facility in the northern San Fernando Valley. Air personnel offices and mechanical repair facilities are housed in two new buildings at the facility.
More important to fire fighting operations, the department last year commenced using its two large helicopters—a 14 and a 10-passenger aircraft—for initial attack.
Helicopter 14 is based at Camp 9, a forestry camp using some facilities of an old Army Nike site on Los Pinetos Peak in the San Gabriel Mountains north of the San Fernando Valley. Helicopter 10 is based at Camp 2, a forestry camp in Oak Grove Park, just west of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the San Gabriel foothills west of Pasadena and Altadena.
The two helicopters operate 10 hours per day, seven days a week, and one responds on all watershed first alarms with a minimum of four pumpers, two patrols and three or four ground crews. Crews are county-paid fire suppression men.
Average take-off to fire time was between 15 and 20 minutes and the helicopters often beat ground units to the fire scene, particularly when it was in a remote area.
Fire-suppression operations begin immediately, as the men carry their own brush fire tools. The helicopter then flies to a nearby site to take on water for aerial drop operations. Prefire planning calls for one engine in every watershed assignment to make the hookup to a hydrant or tank to service the helicopter.
Water source selected
The helicopter pilot works with the first-in chief officers and/or engine company officers to determine the best site for the water operation hookup. In some instances, the helicopter pilot has used hose aboard the aircraft to fill his tank at hydrant pressure, expediting operations.
The helicopters fly with a drop tank and other equipment, but a completely equipped air attack ground tender unit with additional pumps, portable tanks and related equipment also responds to all alarms.
In the peak fire-danger months of last July, August and September, Los Angeles County helicopters made 218 responses, carried 7037 fire fighters, transported 415,859 gallons of water and/or retardent, and lifted 59,529 pounds of additional cargo, hose, etc.
The department also kept a small copter on daily patrol in the Malibu area of the Santa Monica Mountains and continued helicopter air ambulance response in the Northeast County area on weekends—subject to fire response. The department has seven copter pilots.
Dick Friend, L.A. County Fire Department information officer, reported that several helicopter crews returning from fire responses picked up some unreported fires, landed, and contained them prior to the arrival of ground units.
Los Angeles County was a pioneer in helicopter operations with its participation in Operation Firestop in 1954 at Camp Pendleton.
Chief Richard Houts told Fire Engineering that he is extremely high on the entire program and feels that it is a further step in utilization of the large helicopter as a key fire fighting tool.