By Florida National GuardMay 9, 2007
ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. (May 4) -- Florida National Guard aviators at the Aviation Support Facility in Brooksville, Fla., were preparing their helicopters for weekend fire suppression missions in the central Florida on Friday.
"The National Guard is always ready to respond when called upon to support our civilian counterparts," said Capt. Randy McCreary, commander of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 244th Assault Helicopter Regiment.
He explained that his Soldiers were preparing to support the civilian firefighters with two helicopters - a UH-60 Black Hawk with "Bambi Bucket" and a modified UH-60 Fire Hawk.
According to Chief Warrant Officer Ray Freeman, the Florida National Guard used the Fire Hawk to combat small fires in Mississippi following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, but this will be the first time the system will be used in an actual mission in Florida.
"It was actually a great tool and a great system," he said. "We enjoy flying it and it gives us additional capabilities that the bucket doesn't."
A traditional water bucket can only drop one load of water at a time; with a Fire Hawk model the aircrew can control amount of water for each drop and make several smaller drops on different fires.
As the crews were preparing their aircraft, Florida National Guard planners were coordinating with the Division of Forestry for Saturday's flight plan. Guard officials expected the Fire Hawk and Black Hawk to be deployed to central and northeast Florida to fight fires burning from Orange county north to Palm Coast and Volusia counties.
"We are 'revving up our engines' to support Florida Division of Emergency Management and Florida Division of Forestry, as requested," explained Lt. Col. Ron Tittle, Florida National Guard communications director. "Four additional UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters (from Company C, 1st Battalion, 244th Aviation Regiment, based in Brooksville,) are available for fire suppression duty if the Division of Forestry requests them"
The Florida National Guard is also preparing additional personnel for potential ground mop-up missions if needed, Tittle explained. The Guard has more than 9,000 personnel available for state emergency operations.
During the 1998 and 1999 wildfire seasons, the Florida National Guard provided more than 1,200 personnel to support the Division of Forestry's fire suppression operations. Guard aircraft flew more than 1,200 hours and dropped more than 5.5 million gallons of water on wildfires across the state.
In those operations Army and Air National Guard personnel performed maintenance on bulldozers, water tankers, and fire fighting vehicles, and conducted fire mop-up operations which freed up state and local firefighters to focus on active wildfires. Florida's Guardsmen were also instrumental in providing re-fuel capability and maintenance support for heavy equipment in remote areas and rough terrain.