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Guard and NDF helicopter crews practice firefighting skills

Updated: May. 25, 2021 at 7:21 PM PDT
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ALPINE COUNTY, CA. (KOLO) - Veteran firefighters will tell you the fight may eventually be won on the ground, but the attack from the air does a lot in determining how that victory is achieved.

Big air tankers can lay down a potential fire break with thousands of gallons of retardant and smaller fixed wing aircraft have played an increased role in recent years. But helicopters are the ever present workhorses at many fires.

Equipped with pumps and buckets able to scoop up as much as 600 gallons from a nearby pond or lake and--working in close proximity with ground crews--make precise drops on individual hot spots.

“They are much slower,” says Brett Taylor who coordinates air attack operations for the Nevada Division of Forestry. “They can stop. They can support just a single point as opposed to a big long line like fixed wing aircraft do. They can support the firefighters directly.”

That kind of work requires close coordination and skills kept sharp.

That aim brought crews from the Nevada National Guard and the Division of Forestry to the Alpine County Airport and a nearby Reservoir Tuesday.

Their training will pay off later in a real fire situation when things will be much busier and more dangerous.

“A lot people, especially in the Guard community, will tell you fighting fires is probably one of the most dangerous things we do, including combat,” says pilot Capt. Craig Soule. “We put all the weight we can on it. We go into high altitude and hot temperature environments which is hard for the aircraft to work in. We can have a couple of aircraft within a mile of each other, following each other around. Smoke blows in and makes the visibility bad. All kinds of changing things all the time.”

This is a primary mission of the Division of Forestry. The National Guard crews, of course, have another. But there’s something special about making a difference close to home.

“If I can make to where that family can get out or I can give the dozer crew time to save a whole section,” says Capt. Soule, “it makes a huge difference.”

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