County approves two new firefighting helicopters

A fire helicopter drops its load of water near homes that were close to a small brush fire that broke out along northbound Highway 14 just north of Escondido Canyon Road on Thursday, July 6, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal
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In Los Angeles County’s effort to combat intensifying fire seasons, the Board of Supervisors authorized two new firefighting aircrafts at their meeting Tuesday.

The L.A. County Fire Department’s Air Operations Section will get the Sikorsky S70i Firehawk Helicopters at a cost of almost $29.45 million.

“This acquisition supplements our county’s potent aerial firefighting arsenal and our ability to knock down wildfires to protect life and property,” Fifth District Supervisor Kathryn Barger said.

The county expects the aircrafts to be delivered in December 2017 and begin operating during the 2018 fire season.

These helicopters, which can be used during the day or at night, will include a 1,000-gallon water tank, a rescue hoist, custom landing gear and other specialized systems.

They allow for technical rescues, the treatment and transport of patients, hold logistical supplies and can serve as a command platform.

Firehawk helicopters are leaders in the industry, according to Assistant Fire Chief Tom Ewald.

“There is no other helicopter that is available that performs all these missions, and performs them at night, or has the track record the Firehawk helicopters have.”

Currently, the county has a fleet of eight other firefighting aircrafts, including three other Firehawk helicopters. Two of the existing Firehawks are 17 years old and the other one is 13 years old, Ewald said.

“What it is really going to come down to is these are going to enhance our exist fleet of eight,” Ewald said.  “It gives us that much more depth.”

As of now, the added aircrafts are an enhancement to the department’s arsenal, not a replacement, the assistant chief said.

In a few years, the fire department plans to use the new aircrafts in their day-to-day operations and save the older ones for when they are needed at the height of fire season, he said.

“In 2020, we’ll look at reducing the utilization of older aircrafts and save them for peak fire days,” Ewald said.

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