USA – Aerial Firefighting North America 2018 took place over three days between 12 and 14 March 2018, at Sacramento McClellan Airport. Featuring exhibition, workshops, conference, live demonstrations, award ceremony and static display, this year’s event welcomed over 430 aerial fire fighting professionals from all over the world. Tangent Link, renowned and recognised across the globe for its work with the airborne fire fighting community, brought the Aerial Firefighting North America Conference and Exhibition back to Sacramento, California, it took place at the McClellan Conference Centre, Sacramento McClellan Airport. The event highlighted some of the major issues affecting the aerial fire fighting community. The event was the biggest in North America to date and attracted exhibitors and attendees from as far afield as Argentina, Australia, Israel, Italy, New Zealand, Spain and UK.
Four workshops on the event’s first day, examined issues that continue to hinder the aerial fire fighting community. The first, presented by the Federal Administration’s Bruce Wright, examined pilot fatigue. He highlighted how factors such as squeezing in holidays outside the summer fire fighting season and hectic flying schedules can affect people. Then proposed solutions that could save aircrew lives.
The US Forestry Service, with colleagues from the aerial firefighting Centre of Excellence in Colorado looked at future night-vision and night vision goggles. Surely fires can no longer be left to burn unhindered by the AFF community during the night? But can safety issues be overcome so that more NVG technologies can be introduced? These are among the workshop topics that were discussed.
Engine manufacturer Pratt and Whitney Canada instructed their operator audience on the latest developments and MRO updates of its PW-100 Series Turboprops and PT-6 engines, which provides the propulsion on such fire fighting The PW engines are regarded as some of the safest powerplants in the world.
During extended wildfire seasons human factors in the fire fighting profession can become a major issue. Stressful environments with the demands of continuous shifts and being on constant alert can cause concerns with the human/machine interface. The US Forestry Service’s Ivan Pupilidy provided a general fire fighter view of human performance fundamentals and highlight all these effects in a third workshop and to specify some solutions.
The workshops were followed by live aircraft demonstrations, which took place at the McClellan Airfield. There were several aircraft as well as their equipment on a static display including two Boeing CH-47D Chinook helicopters, Canadair CL-415, B747-400 Supertanker, Lockheed C-130 and BAe Avro RJ85 among others.
Attendees were treated to several aerial fire fighting demonstrations, including an Airspray BAe146/RJ85 Airtanker equipped with a new iRADS internal aircraft tank that highlighted the way these aircraft stem the flames.
The past year has seen some brutal wildfires affecting communities across California. Aerial Firefighting North America was privileged to welcome four senior representatives from the world of fire fighting, to the conference’s opening ceremony. Their thoughts on the increasing importance of fire fighting, kick-started two days of presentations.
Shawna Legarza is the National Director of Fire and Aviation Management for the US Forest Service. She has been in post since June 2016 and accrued 25 years of wildland fire management experience. Her presentation highlighted the changes and direction of aerial fire fighting in the US based on the ever-extending seasons. Now, as the head of the Forestry Service she will presented with her insight into how her agency works.
Personnel from the state’s own Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) worked tirelessly, putting their own lives at risk, to combat the fire’s devastating effects. Providing his own insight into the devastating fires which struck California in the latter stages of 2017, was CAL FIRE’s Chief Ken Pimlott. The CAL FIRE Director ran the operations during the October siege and the December fire. Sadly, the latter claimed the life of CAL FIRE engineer, Cory Iverson, during the Thomas fire, crushing the whole fire fighting community.
The opening session also saw a presentation from Brigadier General Dana A Hessheimer, Director Joint Staff, California Military Department. He runs the Joint Staff and joint military operations throughout the California Military Department, which has a work force of 22 000 soldiers, airmen and civilian employees. He serves as the principal executive assistant and advisor to the Adjutant General and directs on their behalf the coordination, planning, development, execution and supervision of all Joint Staff programs that prepare the state for contingency operations in either federal or state emergencies and federal military mobilisations. During his USAF career, he has flown more than 4 000 hours in the T-37, T-38, KC-135, RC-135 as well as MQ-9 Reaper and MQ-1 Predator UAVs.
Chief Kim Zagaris, Chief California Office of Emergency Services (Cal-OES) has extensive background in fire service, ICS/NIMS (Incident Command Systems/National Incident Management System), Urban Search and Rescue (USAR), emergency management, and homeland security which includes working with local, state, federal and international agencies for over the last 40 years. His presentation explained the day-to-day management of the California Fire and Rescue Mutual Aid System, which includes over 1 100 fire agencies and some 55 000 professional and volunteer fire fighters that operate over 6 000 fire engines statewide.
The international Aerial Firefighting Award ceremony took place during the conference dinner in the evening of 13 March 2018, overseen by the Boards of IFAWG- International Fire Aviation Working Group, Global Fire Monitoring Centre and Associated Aerial Fire Fighters. The Award, in honour of a former CAL FIRE pilot, Walt Darren, culminated in a nominated personality from the AFF community receiving this prestigious award at the Conference Dinner.
The afternoon session of the first day of the conference, saw Lt Colonel Bradley G Ross, the USAF Operations Officer of the 731st Airlift Squadron (AS)/302nd Airlift Wing (AW) based at Peterson AFB, Colorado, presented to the audience. His unit operates the C-130H Hercules, which can be fitted with the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS) and he discussed the training of overseas operators. The MAFFS is a roll-on roll-off self-contained system that can discharge up to 3 000 gallons of water or fire retardant in less than five seconds. There are five USAF C-130 MAFFS units serving the US Forestry Service whenever required. The bulk of the MAFFS training, which includes Forestry Service aviation operations personnel is coordinated by the Air Force Reserve (AFRes) at Peterson AFB. However, there are other MAFFS C-130 units serving the Air National Guard, that includes the 145th AW at Charlotte Douglas IAP, North Carolina; 146th AW at Port Hueneme, California; 152nd AW at Reno, Nevada and the 153rd AW at Cheyenne IAP, Wyoming.
Another serving member of the military, Lt Colonel Bryan Allen, of the MAFFS Programme Manager at Port Hueneme based California ANG provided an insight into the MAFFS training with California’s Civil Wildfire Response Community.
Part of the second day of Aerial Firefighting North America highlighted the effects of climate change. California, particularly, is at the coalface of global warming and any national political decisions have a major impact on the state’s ability to manage its environment.
Dr Stephen J Pyne, Regents’ Professor, School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University, USA spoke about his findings on climate change and how to limit future damage. Whereas Dr Chad T Hanson, PhD, Co-Founder, Director and Principal Ecologist, John Muir Project raised the controversial matter of allowing forests to burn in a bid to delivering public safety. An interesting theory, which confounded the majority of on-lookers, who believe all fires should be put out immediately.
Simon White, Air Attack Supervisor, Emergency Management Victoria, Australia spoke of his experiences. Victoria’s fire fighting aircraft fleet comes from across the world and includes the right mix of large and small, fixed-wing and rotary aircraft to effectively fight fires. The aircraft fleet for the 2016-17 season included 48 specialist aircraft that are strategically positioned across the state to support fire fighters on the ground and protect communities. Drones (UAVs) were used for the first time as part of a new trial to gather intelligence and inform operational decision-making, and Simon explained how the Victoria Emergency Management utilised night-vision flying technology. Drones and night-vision flying are two sectors which are bound to increase their presence in the aerial fire fighting community.
Travelling from Argentina, was Dr Daniel Russo, Under Secretary of Civil Protection in Argentina’s Ministry of Security. He highlighted the growing need for an aerial fire fighting capability in the South American state. Like its neighbour Chile, Argentina is suffering from an increasing number of wild fires but relies on outside agencies to thwart them. Budget constraints have so far stopped any dedicated air tanker fire fighting force.