County to buy two additional firefighting Firehawk helicopters

Los Angeles County Fire Copter 16, a Sikorsky Firehawk, approaches Agua Dulce Air Park to take on water during the Stone Fire in 2018. Cory Rubin/The Signal

Supervisor Kathryn Barger, in a bid to bolster L.A. County’s firefighting efforts, announced at the Wildfire Town Hall this week the county is purchasing two additional Firehawk helicopters.

The addition would bring the total number of Firehawk helicopters in the county’s firefighting arsenal to seven in the next couple of years.

“I’m going to break some news here, but we’re looking to buy two more,” Barger told a packed auditorium at the Santa Clarita Sports Complex on Monday night to raucous applause.

“It’s the duty and privilege of our L.A. County Board of Supervisors to ensure our Fire Department is well-equipped to battle the unpredictable wildfires we’ve seen over the last few years,” she said Tuesday, in response to a question about the announcement. “We’re eager to negotiate the potential addition of two new Firehawks to our arsenal to further our efforts to keep our community safe and our fires under control.” 

The Firehawks are actually Sikorsky S-70 Black Hawk helicopters specifically modified for firefighting purposes.

The cost of a Black Hawk helicopter is about $1.7 million, but the cost of outfitting it for firefighting and maintenance brings the total to about $4.2 million.

Town hall attendees were updated by Fire Capt. Daryl Osby about growing number of firefighting aircraft deployed to protect lives and property in the SCV and other parts of the County.

“We have nine helicopters, including three Sikorsky S-70 (Firehawk) helicopters and six Bell 412 helicopters,” he said.

Two additional Firehawks are currently being outfitted for firefighting efforts. One is expected to rejoin the fleet in October, the other one in the spring of 2020, he said.

“Right now, we have two SuperScoopers scheduled to be here Sept. 1,” Osby referring to the fixed-wing water-dumping aircraft leased annually from Canada.

“The first (outfitted) Firehawk will be here in October,” Osby said. “So it’ll be ready to fly in full capacity for our paramedic program and technical rescue by October.  That’s no. 1. The next (outfitted) Firehawk will be here sometime in the spring,” he said.

Add to those the two Firehawk helicopters Barger now wants to buy, and the fleet of water-dumping copters is ready for an active fire season, officials said.

“I’m happy to say the wheels are in motion,” Barger told town hall attendees. “We did a full search of the county and we are in great shape.

“We’ve got a fleet ready willing and able,” she said, noting at one point that SuperScoopers are not longer being manufactured.

The county also has access to other firefighting aircraft through a mutual aid agreement with other agencies.

“Southern California Edison just gave another firefighting copter that has night flying capability stationed in Orange County and able to requested through mutual aid,” Osby said Monday.

As well, four helicopters owned by Los Angeles City are available to the county for use through the same agreement, he said.

The Firehawk performs aerial firefighting and additionally, can plan missions and direct other firefighting aircraft, and provide emergency medical service transport, search and rescue, and logistic support, according to the manufacturer in a press release issued in December 2017, when two of the Firehawks were delivered to the county.

“Once modified by a specialist outfitter in 2018 with a 1,000-gallon water tank, extended landing gear, single pilot cockpit layout and a medically-equipped interior, the new aircraft will increase to five the L.A. County Fire Department’s fleet of Firehawk multi-role helicopters,” according to the release.

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