WHAT HAPPENS AFTER A FIRE STARTS?
Cal Fire launches a full wildland dispatch
Vegetation fires can start from various sources, such as vehicles, machinery, lightning, and, worst of all, arsonists. FIRE DISPATCH: If someone calls 911 from a cell phone to report a new fire, expect to get connected to a law enforcement 911 operator first, then they will be transferred to the local fire department's Emergency Command Center (ECC). 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. Firefighters 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 wildland 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 observation cameras set up across the state also helps monitor the real-time 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, aircraft are spooling up before receiving all information, reducing the response by several minutes. Once all the aircraft are started, the pilots will receive 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. 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 firefighter 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. Multitasking must be a vital 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 firefighters and the priorities are confirmed, Air Attack communicates that to the air tankers and Helicopters on scene. The air attack works similarly to an air traffic controller; 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 happen. Any ground firefighters 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 before dropping. Before 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 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, it coats the vegetation, slowing the fire down and lowering the fire intensity. This makes it easier for ground firefighters to put it out completely.
SUPPORTING THE FIREFIGHTERS ON THE GROUND
Every pilot is proud to support the firefighters on the ground: They are the real heroes.
Without them, no fires would be contained entirely.