County takes possession of two new firefighting helicopters

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As fires ravage Southern California’s landscape, two new firefighting tools are one step closer to bolstering local aerial efforts.

In a ceremony in Coatesville, Penn., two Sikorsky S-70i Black Hawk helicopters were signed over to the Los Angeles County Fire Department, Lockheed Martin confirmed.

Aside from assaulting fires from the sky, the aircraft serve multiple purposes within the county, including emergency medical transport and search and rescue hoist operations.

“We are very happy to take delivery of these two new Firehawk aircraft,” said Deputy Chief Thomas Ewald, of Los Angeles County Fire’s Air and Wildland Division.

Senior helicopter mechanic James Ring holds a model replica of a Sikorsky S-70i Firehawk, the same aircraft being serviced behind him. Austin Dave/The Signal

The aircraft come at a time when wildfires devastated more than 250,000 acres of wildland in Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties in one week.

“With the recent catastrophic wildland fires in L.A. and the Southern California region, the need for additional effective firefighting resources, such as the S-70i Firehawk, is readily apparent,” Edwald said.

“These two additional aircraft will enhance our existing fleet and strengthen both our day and night aerial firefighting capability, ultimately improving our ability to protect the lives and property of our citizens.”

Jeanette Eaton, regional sales director for North America; Thomas Ewald, deputy chief of Los Angeles Fire Department’s Air and Wildland Division; Vince Pena, deputy chief at Los Angeles County Fire Department; Dennis Blumenthal, chief of helicopter maintenance for the Los Angeles County Fire Department; and Bill Gostic, vice president of Sikorsky, present a plaque to the Fire Chiefs commemorating the delivery of the first S-70i Black Hawks in the U.S. and continuing the Firehawk legacy with the Los Angeles County Fire Department. (PRNewsfoto/Lockheed Martin)

In 2018, the pair of military helicopters will be reconfigured to meet those demands. A 1,000-gallon water tank, extended landing gear will be installed with a medically-equipped interior and a single pilot cockpit layout, a Lockheed Martin news release said.

The fire department already employs three S-70A Black Hawk helicopters. The new S-70i birds will bring the number of hawks, as they are often called, to five. The county’s fleet also includes a few Bell helicopters.

A Los Angeles County Fire helicopter makes a water drop to douse flames on a hillside off of Valencia Boulevard near College of the Canyons on Thursday, August 31, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

The military aircraft are often referred to as the workhorse of the municipal fleet as they often endure enormous physical stresses required to drop 1,000 gallons of water multiple times a day on the fire line, Sikorsky President Dan Schultz explained.

“The advanced Firehawk platform is a third generation Black Hawk with increased engine power, speed, maneuverability, higher altitude operations and improved mission availability. We stand behind L.A. County and will continue to support them during their critical missions, ensuring they continue to save untold lives and properties with our Sikorsky products,” Schultz said.

A fire department helicopter makes a water drop over a fire near Gorman on Friday, July 27, 2017. Photo courtesy of Bernie Deyo

Differing from the existing helicopters, the newly purchased aircraft include “wide chord rotor blades for increased payload and maneuverability, enhanced engine power, a stronger airframe, a digital cockpit with flight management system for enhanced situational awareness, and an Integrated Vehicle Health Management System to monitor the aircraft’s operational health,” the news release said.

Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Chopper 19 lands at the Camp 9 Air Operations Facility in Bear Divide on June 29. KATHARINE LOTZE/Signal. 06292015

The Los Angeles County Fire Department was the first municipal organization to purchase the Firehawk in Dec. 2000.

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