12 December 2013
Using any sort of air resource to thwart a wildfire is known as aerial firefighting. Aerial firefighting does not limit the term to rotary and fixed-wing, it also can refer to helicopters, rappellers, and smokejumpers. Focusing in on the use of helicopters in wildland firefighting, the word Helitack indicates the performance of aerial firefighting as a resource that aids fire suppression. Helitack crews are those that employ the use helicopters to fight fire, and primarily perform initial attack. The usefulness of a helitack crew is to go into remote areas that are inaccessible or difficult for ground crews to respond fast enough too, and fight fire.
Having knowledge of the history of aerial firefighting is imperative for the safety of firefighters, contractors, property, and the general populace involved. It is vital in a high-risk occupation to best look at past problems, or lack thereof, to determine if the mission is being accomplished in the safest and most effective way. The foundation of this paper will involve the history of aerial firefighting, helitack crews specifically, and the progression thus far of its effectiveness.
Going into greater depth of Helitack crews in wildland firefighting, it is very important to know the chain of command and how it works. To progress to higher levels in the field of fire, it is important to know who reports to who. If one wants to move up the chain of command, that personnel will be shadowing the respective in order to get signed off on tasks and learn how to do that job. There are other valuable reasons for having intimate knowledge of the chain of command and how it works, because not everyone is deemed fit for the job they are performing. For instance, if one feels there is a lack of safety regulations being followed by a squad boss, then that firefighter needs to know who to report to so the issue can be addressed. Firefighters, contractors, and other interagency personnel have an objective to put the safety of fellow co-workers above all. But, what does that take? It means a sundry of attributes, communications skills, moral conducts, and effective leadership skills need to be in play at all times. In order to have interagency relationships, it is essential to maintain positive working relations on the field and never allow safety to be compromised.
There are so many cool things about firefighting and, even more so, fighting fire from the air, but of chief importance is having basic fire, safety, communication, and human relations knowledge, The focus for this paper is to understand to the history of aerial firefighting, to get a better under-standing of what it takes to be on a helitack crew, how the organization is constructed, and how leadership and communication play indispensable roles in firefighting.
History of Aerial Firefighting Although concerns arise with wildfires as they continue to burn millions upon millions of acres each year, they can be a salient key in natural restoration of the environment. Contained and uncontained fires can be used to restore balance in many ecosystems, stimulate growth, and germinate seeds (Jedeikin). Some wildfires occur from human error, such as prescribed fires getting out of hand, cigarettes, fireworks, not listening to Smokey Bear by being careless with fire in the woods, etc. In 1944, Albert Staehle drew up Smokey Bear as the face of prevention awareness of wildfires caused by human error (Bidell). Smokey Bear appealed to one’s emotions, because, like this picture on the right, people started realizing the effects wildfires had on wildlife, people, and property. During this time where urbanization and the threat of wildfire damaging homes became more prominent and pertinent, so did the importance of firefighter safety and effectiveness. As the