WHAT HAPPENS AFTER A FIRE STARTS?
Cal Fire launches a full wildland dispatch
Vegetation fires can start from a wide variety of sources, such as vehicles, machinery, lightning and worst of all arsonists, just to name a few. FIRE DISPATCH: If someone is calling 911 from a cell phone to report a new fire, expect to get connected to a law enforcement 911 operator first. From there you will be transferred to an Emergency Command Center (ECC) for the local fire department. If determined to be a wildland fire, the dispatcher will announce “vegetation fire” or “wildland fire” over that local unit’s intercom, alerting all fire stations and the air attack base. Fire fighters will immediately gear up and rush to their fire engine, dozer or hand crew bus. At the air base, the pilots will dawn their flight suits and head to the aircraft with a general descriptive location.
WILDLAND FIRE DISPATCH
The local unit then sends a request for aircraft to one of two aircraft dispatch operation centers in the state (North or South). From there, they will dispatch a full wild land response generally consisting of an Air Attack, two Air Tankers and a Helicopter. This initial dispatch may be augmented by a dispatcher based on fire weather, fire history and additional requests for aircraft from the first firefighters to arrive. A network of wildland cameras set up across the state also help monitor realtime activity of the fire.
AIR ATTACK OV10 QUICKLY RESPONDS WITH AIR TANKERS AND HELICOPTERS
California is unique in that aircraft dispatching happens over a statewide intercom system. Often times, aircraft are spooling up prior to receiving all information reducing the response by several minutes. Once the aircraft are started, the pilots will copy down the Incident name, GPS waypoint and frequencies, then complete checklists and takeoff.
This local and state intercom system keeps neighboring tanker bases alerted of a new fire, decreasing additional response times as well. From the time you dial 911 to the time we are airborne often happens in 5 minutes or less.
AIR ATTACK COMMUNICATES WITH GROUND RESOURCES
Once on scene of the fire (incident), the ATGS (Air Tactical Group Supervisor, aka Air Attack) which is the highly experienced fire fighter in the back seat of the OV10, immediately assesses the fire potential, hazards for aircraft and establishes communication with the firefighters on the ground. While the ATGS does not fly the plane, their job is critical and gets extremely busy. They have a minimum of six different radio frequencies operating at one time. Obviously, multitasking must be a strong attribute for these individuals.
AIR ATTACK COORDINATES WITH GROUND RESOURCES AND DIRECTS AIR TANKERS AND HELICOPTERS FOR PRIORITY RETARDANT AND WATER DROPS
Once communication is established with the ground fire fighters and the priorities are confirmed, Air Attack then communicates that to the tankers and Helicopters on scene. The air attack works in a similar way an air traffic controller would, their instructions are made to keep all aircraft flying in relatively close proximity safe and maintain aircraft separation.
AIR TANKER CLEARED TO DROP
Before a tanker makes a retardant drop, many things have to have happen. Any ground fire fighters must be made aware that a tanker drop is inbound and if they are in the vicinity of the target area, they must be clear of it. This is typically relayed through the air attack and a clearance is given to the tanker pilot prior to dropping. Prior to dropping, the tanker pilot receives clearance from the air attack, sets the tank computer for the coverage level (the amount of retardant coverage per square foot by the time it rains down on the ground) and strategically makes a plan on how they will descend down to the drop and safely fly an exit pattern away from the fire.
FIRE RETARDANT SLOWING THE RATE OF SPREAD
Our fire retardant (the current type used is made by Phoschek) is made up of water, fertilizers, thickening agents and red coloring to help pilots see what areas have already been dropped on. As it rains down it coats the vegetation, thereby slowing the fire down and lowering the fire intensity. This makes it easier for the ground fire fighters to completely put it out.
SUPPORTING THE FIREFIGHTERS ON THE GROUND
At the end of the day, every single pilot is proud to support the fire fighters on the ground: They are the real heroes.
Without them, no fires would be completely contained.