ways. From troop shuttles to gear hauling
to water dropping, these aircraft are
used successfully every summer, flying
thousands of hours. I will not list all of
the advantages or disadvantages in every
possible situation, but I would like to
touch on the fundamental considerations
when working with helicopters.
First and foremost, always request the
use of helicopters through the air tactical
group supervisor (ATGS) or helicopter coordinator. These individuals are the aerial
supervisors over the incident and directly
manage the airspace and maintain vigilant
accountability for all the aircraft working over the fire. These supervisors are
juggling all the mission requests from the
incident management team as well as the
daily suppression resources and need to be
notified of the request to track and ensure
all objectives for that operational period
are being addressed. This request may be
routed through the division/group supervisor (DIVS) you are working for or may come
directly from you to the ATGS, depending
on the DIVS management preference.
Regardless, this must be done over the air
tactics frequency assigned to the incident
and is now more commonly done over the
air-to-ground command channel because
of the complexity of the incidents and the
volume of radio traffic related to working
with the various aircraft over the fire.
When requesting helicopter resources,
make sure you have a specific location for
the helicopter to report to; this could be a
global positioning system (GPS) coordi-
nate or a general location identified on the
daily fire map like a drop point or topo-
graphic feature identified within a divi-
sion. If you use GPS, ensure that you give
the coordinates in the format of degrees
and decimal minutes. This display format
is the default used by aircraft working
over wildland incidents and is how their
GPS is set. An example of this format is as
follows: 38 2.335’ N by 120 13.675’ W.
In addition to having a concise location
of the mission, have a clear and concise
mission objective or target and a ground
contact whom the inbound helicopter can
hail when approaching the target area.
The radio traffic between the assigned
helicopter and the ground contact must
be conducted on the appropriate assigned
air-to-ground tactical frequency on which
you made the request for aircraft.
The most frequent oversight I have witnessed while working aircraft on wildland
incidents is that the identified ground
contact does not respond promptly to the
inbound helicopter. This is frustrating for
all parties and is ultimately dangerous for
the pilot, who must unnecessarily fly in circles trying to raise a contact on the radio. If
you are the ground contact, take your radio
off scan and be on the correct channel.
Once you have established contact with
the inbound helicopter, ensure that the
pilot has a clear understanding of your location and the target location in reference
to your position. Accomplish this verbal
description by talking in terms of clock
dial direction from the pilot’s position (not
yours). Do not use your clock directions—
the pilot doesn’t yet know where you are!
Also, do not use vague descriptions such
as, “I am the person with a yellow helmet
next to the large pine tree.” Protocol suggests that you give a clock direction from
the pilot’s perspective to your location and
then add an adjective of high, level, or low.
This is critical information for the pilot to
be able to look in a specific direction and
wait for additional visual clues to your
location. The additional clues from you
should most typically be in the form of
a mirror flash or a bright panel you have
placed near you or the target.
Once the pilot has a reference location
for you, the next transmission should
be to describe the target location and
desired action of the helicopter in terms of
a unit of measure that pilots are inti-
mately familiar with: rotor widths. Once
the target has been described and the
mission completed, give feedback to the
pilot, especially if you have additional
needs or, for example, want to correct
the placement of the water drop that just
was completed. If you have no additional
needs, make sure the pilot understands
that you have released that ship back to
the ATGS for reassignment.
Another very important safety issue to
remember around larger helicopters is the
significant rotor wash that comes down
out of their rotor and the subsequent impact on the fire behavior and the vegetation. Ensure as the ground contact working
with a Type 1 helicopter that you can positively confirm with the pilot that all ground
resources are out of the target area.
This class of aircraft has the most
impact on large, fast-moving fire fronts.
It can be used in an offensive or a direct
suppression mode or in an indirect mode.
Fire behavior explodes when conditions
are in alignment, and when that occurs,
there is little ground or air resources can
do to stop perimeter growth and spotting.
Point protection of certain values at risk
can be accomplished, but often the greater
perimeter continues to grow until conditions producing the extreme behavior
abate. During these conditions, fixed-wing aircraft are exceptionally beneficial
to assist in dropping out in front of the fire
front to slow its progress, giving ground
resources time to construct an indirect
containment line. Once the line has been
built, fixed-wing aircraft are often used to
pretreat the green side of the containment
line in anticipation of firing operations.
One difference between the requesting
paths for fixed-wing vs. rotor-wing aircraft
is that mission requests for fixed wing or
( 2) Rotor-wing aircraft are the most versatile
used in wildland incident management. (Photo
by Tod Sudmeier.)
(1) Fixed-wing aircraft have the greatest
impact on large, fast-moving fire fronts. (Photo
by John Cetrino.)