Kurt Kamm FIREFIGHTER MYSTERY NOVELS
ONE FOOT IN THE BLACK – Wildland Fire
RED FLAG WARNING – Serial Arson
CODE BLOOD – Paramedic Thriller
HAZARDOUS MATERIAL – Meth Lab Mystery
TUNNEL VISIONS – Urban Search and Rescue
AERIAL FIREFIGHTING AND SMOKE JUMPERS
THE MARTIN – MARS AIR TANKER
The cost of the Martin Mars air tanker is $15,000 per day availability and $8,000 per flight hour. The Mars Martin can drop over 7,000 gallons of water on a fire covering an area of up to four acres.
The safe height for a Martin Mars water drop is 250-feet above the vegetation. The water source required for the use of the Mars Martin is a lake that allows for 1.5-miles of lake for scooping operations and an additional 1.5 miles of flat or descending terrain for climb out.
Only 7 Mars Martin aircraft were ever built. The Hawaii Mars Martin “Red Tail” was delivered to the U. S. Navy on April 23, 1946.
These pictures are courtesy of Melissa Anderson. See a spectacular Mighty Martin Mars YouTube video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pEwau91zs
The Martin Mars was recently used in Los Angeles on the County’s largest (165,000 acre) wildfire. Here is a picture of it dropping water on the Mount Wilson Telecommunications Tower Base
In 1956, World War II bomber aircraft were converted into airtankers for wildland firefighting. Some retired passenger aircraft were also transformed and used as aerial resources. These large planes are fitted with fixed tanks for dropping retardant or water.
Airtankers carry retardant, a mixture of phosphates, clay, and water. They drop their loads to create a fire barrier, slowing the fire so ground firefighting crews can build firelines and slow or stop the progress of the fire.
Suppression tactics with airtankers consist of cooling and slowing the fire by laying a “wet line” of retardant along the flanks of the fire to support the firefighters on the ground. Airtankers are privately owned and operated under contract to government agencies.
(From USFS Website – Fire and Aviation Management Page)
I had heard stories at CDF of men suffering broken bones when they were hit with retardant, which was nothing but fertilizer mixed with red dye and water. Sometimes the fertilizer didn’t dissolve and it came down in chunks. In Auburn, they told us to hit the ground if there was incoming retardant, face in the dirt, head covered with your helmet.
EXERPT FROM ONE FOOT IN THE BLACK
In my novel, One Foot in the Black, Greg and his crew arrive to help fight the 100,000+ acre Pozo Fire, and hear one of the pilots comment, “There’s a lot of metal in the air.” At a major wildland fire, all available firefighting aircraft may be used, drawn from Federal, state and county resources, the military, and outside contractors.
Delicate coordination is required between Incident Command, which develops and supervises overall firefighting strategy, the men on the ground who are implementing the fight and calling for airdrops, and the pilots themselves. Often there is a helicopter in the air with a Fire Control Officer who coordinates orders and communications between the aircraft and the men on the ground
Recently, a converted DC-10, with 12,000-gallon water tanks mounted under its fuselage, and the Evergreen converted 747, capable of carrying 24,000 gallons are being used in California. certification.
“That scares the crap out of you when you’re on the side of a hill and you see that thing coming towards you…But man it’s an amazing sight to see it drop”
When i’m out in the wilderness fighting a fire with nothing but my blood, sweat, tears & a pulaski…i can’t think of any sexier sight to see than a big a$$ plane dropping in a-whole-alot-a-wata!
I worked for Chemonics and Phoschec back in the early 90′s at the Winslow Tanker Base and was under many drops before that with the Forest Service. The mix that we had in the 80’s was a clay based mix. It had a 48 hr period before it began coagulating. After 72 hrs would it would begin crystallizing on the top and edges. We could re-mix the retardant in the tanks daily, however, if a plane was loaded and that load was cancelled, the plane could sit in the pit until an order came through.
The planes were only allowed to sit for 7 days before they had to either dump the load in the pit and be cleaned up by the load crews or they would do a flight and dump the load in a field near the runway.
As a firefighter on the ground we always knew when a load had been in the plane for a few days, because it would come out in a big clump, sometimes we would fine softball size chunks of the retardant on the ground after a drop.
The changes in the retardant from the clay based with the red dye to the newer fertilizer based retardants made a large improvement for all parties involved. Mixing became easier with less hazards to the base crews (clay based dust with a dye), the planes and their crews and the firefighters on the ground.
One of the other major changes that was made was the FAA and other federal agencies came up with the policy for drop elevation AGL (above ground level). Pilots would hit the tree tops with tank doors. When they dropped like that they came in very hot so the retardant load would punch through the tree top, usually breaking the tops or other large branches off.
I could tell old war stories for days, but my dad could tell even more as a retired CDF Captain, 1952 to 1972. Back in his day the retardant was Borat (borax) mixed with a red dye, and the retardant would kill the vegetation due to the high salt content. And OMG would it stain your clothes and truck. He has a picture of a CDF fire truck that got hit broadside with a 1000 gal drop, the windows were broken out and the truck was on its side.
Ahh the good o’l days. (Courtesy of Jeff Clark)
Often a retardant or water drop requires flying through thick, sometimes blinding smoke. The fixed wing aircraft are guided in by a small spotter aircraft, usually a one-man Cessna Skymaster.
Much of the fixed wing aircraft used for firefighting is old, and concerns are growing about airworthiness. Recently there have been incidents where aircraft have disintegrated in the air due to the catastrophic metal fatigue from the stress applied to the aging airframes. Old patrol bombers, twin engine Neptunes (used by the Navy 1947-1978), and the four engine Orion (used after 1980), are still in use. The military may supply old C-130 Hercules aircraft fitted with internal water tanks. At the state level, for example, CalFire operates 23 Grumman air tankers from 13 bases around California.
The Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) can be used on the C-130, for retardant or water drops on wildland fires.
Helicopters were first used on wildland fires in Southern California in 1947. Fire managers found that helicopters could rapidly transport personnel and cargo to a fire and then remain on-scene to perform a variety of tactical and logistical missions. Helicopters can be equipped with a bucket or fixed tank to drop water or retardant during firefighting operations. They deliver helitack crews (firefighting personnel) for initial attack, and transport personnel and cargo in support of fires. Some helitack firefighters are trained to rappel from the helicopter to reach fires in remote locations quickly. Helicopters can also carry instruments to provide infrared imaging or to generate digital maps of wildland fires.
When not assigned to wildland fires, helicopters may be utilized to ignite prescribed fires, flying with helitorches suspended from the helicopter or dropping spherical ignition devices. One of the most important services helicopters can provide is the ability to remove injured firefighters from the scene.
Today, the Los Angeles County Fire Department flies two Fire Hawks, which are Black Hawk attack helicopters converted to firefighting.
In Los Angeles County, two twin-engine, high wing Super Scoopers are leased from Quebec Province during the Santa Ana months (October – March).
The idea of actually parachuting into fires was a Soviet invention,” says American wildfire historian Stephen Pyne. “In the 1930s these guys would climb out onto the wing of a plane, jump off, land in the nearest village, and rally the villagers to go fight the fire.” Russia’s aerial firefighting organization, the Avialesookhrana, is the largest of its kind in the world. Some 4,000 firefighters patrol 11 time zones in Soviet-era helicopters and biplanes, dousing the country’s 20,000 to 35,000 wildfires every year.
“I will remind you that you wrote some time ago about J.B. Bruce’s scheme of dropping men from airplanes for firefighting. I am willing to take a chance on most any kind of a proposition that promises better action on fires, but I hesitate very much to go into the kind of thing that Bruce proposes. In the first place, the best information I can get from experienced fliers is that all parachute jumpers are more or less crazy – just a little bit unbalanced, otherwise they wouldn’t be engaged in such a hazardous undertaking.”
- Regional Forester Evan Kelley, July 1935
Pioneer smokejumper Earl Cooley once told a newspaper reporter the only bad part of parachuting into a forest fire was the walk home. Considering that his chute nearly failed to open and he landed 140 feet up a spruce on the Forest Service’s first-ever jump on a wildfire, it’s fair to wonder why the practice of smokejumping ever got a second chance.
Firefighting crews spend the fire season in the Northwest shuttling back and forth among blazes. Some will make dramatic entrances, dropping from airplanes and helicopters to get to places where trucks can’t. Smokejumpers are the initial attack, getting to fires in remote locations and keeping them small. Smokejumping is a dangerous, but popular job. For every one open position, the USFS gets a hundred applicants. Rookies undergo five weeks of intense training, including 15 practice jumps.
The Forest Service started its smokejumping program in 1940. Now it employs more than 300 smokejumpers at seven bases, including McCall, Idaho; Winthrop, Washington and Redmond, Oregon.
Six new smokejumpers recently finished their training at a Forest Service camp in north central Idaho. Circling above is a small plane. It’s carrying one veteran and six rookie U.S. Forest Service smokejumpers. A spotter inside the plane throws out two orange crepe paper streamers to gauge the wind. When she’s satisfied with the conditions, she sends the jumpers in groups of two. The first three get down just fine in the wide open spaces. The fourth has a close call and shears off a part of a tree, but he’s ok. Jumpers five and six also get down safely. Number seven, the veteran, comes down alone. Once they land, the jumpers gather their parachutes and stuff them into their heavy backpacks. It all adds up to 70 pounds of gear.
One jumper said, “The first jump I was quite terrified. But you just take a few deep breaths and you’re out the door all of a sudden and the chute opens and it goes from this really incredible hurricane of activity, energy, noise. Pop. Just complete silence. It was the most remarkable feeling I’ve ever had.”
Spend the summer in far-off Fairbanks, Alaska, parachuting from a couple thousand feet into wildfires raking across country few had seen? You bet. They’re an elite bunch, highly trained with toe-to-toe experience against flame. There’s something else, too — a quality some might call brazen, bold, or even crazy. These firefighters are willing to step out of aircraft a couple thousand feet above the earth, trusting parachutes to safely shuttle themselves and 100 pounds of gear to a landing near raging wildfires. For me, it’s that feeling when I hit the ground after a jump on a fire. The plane’s flying off. It’s just me, my seven friends and a fire, and we have to take care of it.”
Smokejumpers are most often deployed to fires that are extremely remote. The extra risk associated with this method is justified by reaching a wildfire shortly after ignition when it is still relatively small. Another argument for delivering wildland firefighters by parachute is that the fixed-wing aircraft that carry smokejumpers are cheaper to operate over long distances, carry more personnel and equipment and have higher top speeds than the helicopters often used for other fire deployments. While remoteness is one reason parachute deployment is used, it adds to the risk inherent in smokejumping as crews are often hours away from help if the wind shifts or someone gets injured.
On the 4th of July I jumped my first fire in Colorado. The size was 20 acres of rolling hills. We twelve jumpers from AZ worked the fire most of the night with only a little catnap. We demobbed on July 5 to Grand Jct. I clocked off at 2400. I watched the Weather Channel to see the forecast of a dry cold front coming the next day with winds. My main concern at this time was jumping in the winds. When I arrived to the airport the morning of the 6th the word came of a fire call. There was plenty of time to ready gear. The pilots were not scheduled to be on until 0900.
In the air over the fire I saw it was 30-40 acres on top of a mountain. It looked steep, rocky, brushy. The fire had many fingers. I would call it messy. The windows in the jump plane are few and small. During streamer passes, I couldn’t get a good look at the jump spot. The spotter said that there was 100 yards of drift. I thought it looked more like 250 yards. The exit point was correct. The wind drift was straight and steady with very little turbulence. I expected turbulence from the terrain. Eric and Billy were the first stick. After they were out the door I could see the spot well. My jump partner and I discussed our jump strategy. We had an intense jump, but both of us did well and made the spot. The rest of the load made it in or near the spot without any major problems. The time was approx 0930. (FIREFIGHTER’S WORDS – Blog Entry).
Ha ha…how many jumpers does it take to screw in a light bulb… just one to hold the bulb while the world revolves around him. Ha ha…you would never hear that smack talk from North Cascades or Missoula or Redmond…I would expect to hear it from Winiema and Panhandle