LAFD Air Operations

A resident of one of Los Angeles' many hillside communities looks out her window, across a canyon thick with dry native brush. Santa Ana winds are blowing out of the north and begin to fan a small fire in the brush started by a downed power line. She calls 911 from her kitchen phone.

During a typical evening rush hour traffic snarl, a serious accident has occurred. One of the more seriously injured patients is a 3 y/o child who is going to need immediate medical attention at Childrens Hospital, 25 miles away. A passing motorist uses a car phone to notify the Fire Department of the accident.

The winter rains have saturated the storm channel system. Water flows as fast as 20 mph in some of the storm swollen flood channels. A young boy's curiosity gets the better of him and as he ventures too close to a flood channel, he slips and falls into the raging torrent. A citizen hears his cry for help and calls the Fire Department.

A hiker gets lost or trapped in the Santa Monica mountains and needs help. A rock climber falls and injures himself in the hills of Chatsworth Park and needs medical assistance. A member of a ship's crew has a heart attack while the ship is 2 miles outside of the San Pedro harbor. He needs to be quickly transported to a local hospital.

All of these scenarios require rapid response by various Fire Department resources to mitigate the problem. One resource common and vital to all of these emergencies is the helicopter and its crew.

The Los Angeles City Fire Department's Air Operations unit has been there to help in emergencies since 1962. The unit began with one piston engine Bell 47 and has grown to a fleet of six jet turbine powered helicopters. All of the ships in the fleet are manufactured by Bell Helicopter Textron.

The Bell 206 Jet Ranger is the smallest ship in the fleet. We have two of these aircraft. They are primarily used for observation and command at incidents. They are equipped with a 30 million candle power night sun spot light for illumination of night time incidents and searches.

We have two Bell 205's. These are the Vietnam era ships originally designed for medevac and troop transport during the war. Their primary mission is fire suppression during grass or brush fires. They are used as water droppers. These ships are a welcome sight for ground personnel at brush fires. They can accurately deliver 350 gallons of water in one drop to inaccessible or difficult to reach areas of terrain, saving the firefighters on the ground a lot of work and making their jobs much safer. The 205's can also be configured for air ambulance incidents, hoist incidents and swift water rescues.

The newest ships in the fleet are our two Bell 412's. They are a twin engine helicopter whose primary mission is air ambulance, hoist and water dropping. The twin engines give an added margin of safety during extended hovering operations such as hoist rescues.

The helicopters are augmented with various equipment designed for given operations. Knowledge of the use and maintenance of this equipment is an integral part of the pilots and helitac crew members jobs.

The most important assets of the unit are the pilots, helitac crew members and mechanics.

The pilots at Air Operations undergo a rigorous screening and training regimen before they are certified to fly for the Fire Department. The initial training program consists of 200 hours of instruction in basic operations, mountain terrain, heavy load operations, confined space landing and aircraft emergencies. During the initial training phase, the pilots are continually tested through "check rides" which measure their skill and proficiency in all phases of helicopter operations. The success rate for initial training is approximately 33%. Once the initial training is completed, the pilot must fly an additional 300 hours to build their skills and proficiency. The pilot will eventually transition into the 205 and then the 412 as their skill, experience and proficiency increase. Once certified in all ships, Department pilots are probably the most proficient and well trained pilots in public service. The Departments helicopters are staffed 24 hours a day and stand ready to respond to any emergency throughout the City.

The helitac crews are stationed at Fire Station 90 across the Van Nuys airport from the Air Operations facility. The helitac crews consist of Captains, Engineers, Apparatus Operators and Firefighters, all trained in helitac duties. Their training takes 6 - 12 months to complete and encompasses areas such as knowledge of helispots, fueling operations, water filling operations, hoist operations and a thorough knowledge of the use and maintenance of all associated equipment. These crew members are vital to the safe and effective operation of the helicopters.

Maintenance of the Department helicopters is performed by Department of General Services mechanics. Many of the mechanics have military background and extensive training and experience as civilian mechanics. Their hard work and attention to detail makes our fleet the best maintained anywhere in the country.

On a lighter side, we found these photos of an LAFD Air Operations pilot being given a "parking citation" by an LAPD officer for parking his helicopter too far from the curb after a recent incident.

We wish to thank photographer Ross Benson for the shots of Fire 3 (top photo) and for the shot of Fire 4 with Fire 1 in the backround. Thanks also go to photographer Jeff Miller for the shot of Fire 1 doing a hoist operation. And lastly, thanks to Mike Meadows for the shots of Fire 1 getting the parking ticket.

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