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N.Y. Army Guard aircrews assist in forest fire fighting

By Eric Durr and Spc. Andrew Valenza | New York National Guard | July 16, 2018

ALTONA, N.Y. - New York Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk aircrews from 3rd Battalion, 142nd Aviation, dropped more than 100,000 gallons of water on a 526-acre forest fire burning in Flatrock State Forest on July 13 and July 15.

The fire, located 10 miles south of the Canadian border just outside New York's Adirondack Park, began on July 12.

Over 200 personnel—New York State forest rangers, Department of Environmental Conservation fire crews, and local volunteer fire departments - have been part of the response. Crews from Quebec and Vermont have also responded, according to Clinton County emergency officials.

Smoke from the fire could be seen across Lake Champlain in Vermont, according to reports.

With temperatures in the 80s over the weekend, the six hours or more in the air were fatiguing for the pilots and aircrew, said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Tom Brunschmid, one of the pilots.

The biggest challenge for the aircrews was coordinating with the New York State forest rangers on the grounds who were directing the water drops, Brunschmid said. Because the military radios in the UH-60 don't match the frequencies of the radios used by the Rangers, the Black Hawk crews had to speak with the ground on hand-held radios, he explained.

New York State Police helicopters were initially called in to fight the fire. The New York State Police fly civilian versions of the UH-1 Huey helicopter and can deploy firefighting buckets which can drop 220 gallons of water.

On Friday, the New York Army National Guard was asked to put two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and eight aircrew on standby to assist if necessary at Army Aviation Support Facility #3 in Latham, New York, just outside of Albany. The UH-60s can deploy fire-fighting buckets, known as helicopter buckets, which can hold 660 gallons of water.

Those aircraft were deployed to the Plattsburgh area to support fire crews on Friday afternoon.

The two UH-60 helicopters flew 73 drop missions on Friday and delivered 48,180 gallons of water on the fire before returning to Latham after dark.

On Saturday crews and helicopters were on standby, but fire officials did not call for their assistance.

On Sunday the New York Army National Guard aircrews went into action again. The two UH-60s delivered 52,800 gallons of water on the fire in 80 drop missions.

Each fully loaded helicopter bucket weights more than 5,400 pounds.

The helicopters used a lake two miles away from the fire site to fill the buckets, Brunschmid said.

Each day the aircrews had to stop and refuel three times, due to the amount of fuel used from transporting such heavy loads.

On Sunday, fire officials declared the fire 40 percent contained.

Justin case they were needed, New York Army National Guard aircrews were on standby again with two UH-60s to respond if required, on Monday.

Each spring a select number of pilots and crew chiefs train on using the helicopter buckets to pick up and dump water to prepare to fight wildfires.

The pilots need the additional practice because a helicopter has a very different feel when it is carrying 5,400 pounds of water underneath it.

According to Staff Sgt. Jimmy Rose, a crew chief, the Soldiers like doing these kinds of missions.

“Reacting to state emergencies are the best types of missions” Rose said, “You're working for the people of New York State, and when you're doing your job, that's who I prefer to do it for.”