How LA County Fire Department's helicopter fleet helps fight wildfires

The LA County Fire Department's firefighting aircraft are all stored at airports in the North San Fernando Valley.

Amanda Palacios Image
Tuesday, October 18, 2022
How LA County Fire Department's helicopter fleet helps fight fires
LA County Fire Department Air Operations maintains a fleet of multi-use helicopters that are used to drop water and retardant during a fire.

VAN NUYS, LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Fighting fires from the air is crucial in battling flames when a fire breaks out. All the Los Angeles County Fire Department's aircraft are stored at airports in the North San Fernando Valley.

In Pacoima, the Fire Department Air Operations unit maintains a fleet of helicopters year-round at Whiteman Airport. Within minutes of a call, the helicopters are off the ground, ready to respond to a fire.

"As we move further into fire season and our field moisture begins to drop to a critical level, it's important for us to be able to have a fleet of aircraft that can operate in various types of terrain and conditions," said L.A. County Fire Batt. Chief Robert Gaylor.

Fire officials say the peak times they see the most fires are in the dry summer months. During this time, they temporarily bring in two additional types of aircraft to Van Nuys Airport.

"July 1 is when we brought on Helitanker 55, the CH-47 and that's a six-month contract. And then Sept. 1, we started a 90-day contract with the government of Quebec with the CL-415 Super Scoopers," Gaylor said.

The CL-415, Bell 412, Sikorsky S-70 and Boeing CH-47 all play an important role in the firefight.

"This is a Boeing CH-47D model helicopter. Specifically, what we use it for is water dropping, retardant dropping or gel dropping, whatever is needed for the operation," said Pilot Ryan O' Herron.

The CH-47 also has night vision technology. 2021 was the first time ever fire retardant was dropped at night during the Caldor Fire.

"They wear special goggles and the instrumentations we have in here are set up for night operations," O' Herron said.

During a fire, you may have also seen yellow CL-415's dropping water from the sky. These aircraft are also referred to as Super Scoopers and have the ability to fill up a 1,600-gallon water tank in 12 seconds.

"There are two little scoops underneath that catch the water into the tanks by gravity because of the speed," said Pilot David Majeau.

The Sikorsky S-70 and Bell 412 are different sizes but both can drop water and lift people.

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