California’s Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA) announced during a press event this week that the County will commence a five month trial with the assistance of Coulson Aviation, who recently assisted in a similar program to prove the success of the program in Australia.

The grant funding will be provided by energy provider Southern California Edison and will allow OCFA to respond to any fireground within the Southern California Edison coverage area throughout Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties.

The new program will, unlike other previous iterations, allow the Coulson S-61 helicopter to refill its water tank while hovering, saving valuable load time from previous efforts that required the helicopter to land to refill the one thousand gallon drop tank on the S-61.

Coulson Aviation’s S-76 will provide overwatch capabilities and laser guidance for the S-61 fire tanker. Photo courtesy Coulson Aviation.

OCFA’s night firefighting effort, like the recent successful Australian trials aim to show the effectiveness of a round the clock effort to extinguish fires that were previously left to burn overnight in many cases. This approach is hoped to save valuable time in how long the helicopters are off the fireground, along with saving countless acres of land, property and likely lives in firefighting efforts in large fires like those that hit Southern California in 2018.

“Typically temperatures are down, humidity is up, winds are less,” Fennessy said. “For the pilots there is less aircraft in the air, less radio traffic…it’s the perfect time to get after some of these fires.” said OCFA Fire Chief Brian Fennessy during the press event held at Fullerton Municipal Airport in California.

Coulson’s multi-faceted approach to night firefighting also involves the use of an S-76 helicopter in an overwatch role that will set up an orbit roughly one thousand feet above the fireground and provide valuable intelligence and safety information for the crews below in the S-61. The pilot and crew in the S-76 will have the capability of deploying laser designation for precision water drop guidance that the S-61 crew can pick up using helmet mounted NVG’s in the cockpit.

Southern California Edison is not new to providing funding for private/public initiatives, having teamed up with agencies in the pastto offer funding for the installation of camera systems that allow officials to spot wildfires and offer more advanced warning to residents in southern California.

“The unprecedented scale of this fire threat has been called the new normal,” said Chris Thompson from Southern California Edison. “We want to ensure the safety of this region.”

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