By Army National Guard Sgt. Darron Salzer
National Guard Bureau
GREENVILLE, S.C. (5/10/12) - The North Carolina Air National Guard worked with the U.S. Forest Service in a joint training mission which will enable both agencies to be better prepared for wildfire suppression missions during the upcoming wildfire season.
During the recent training, the skies above South and North Carolina saw Air Guard C-130 Hercules aircraft– equipped with the Forest Service-owned Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System II – performing simulated aerial fire suppression maneuvers.
Frank Domingues, the MAFFS liaison officer for the U.S. Forest Service, said with the assistance of the Air National Guard and the use of the MAFFS II system, the Forest Service is able to seamlessly incorporate the Guard C-130 fleet into wildland fire suppression activities.
According to Domingues, this integration helps to reduce the demand on the fleet of commercial tankers deployed by the Forest Service – a fleet whose numbers once totaled 36, but have dropped to 11 over the years.
“Even when we activate the MAFFS and get that assistance from the [Air National Guard], it’s still less than half of what we used to have as far as fire suppression, but it really helps with the workload,” Domingues said.
The U.S. Forest Service is anticipating a higher than normal active wildland fire season this summer, said officials.
Domingues said the Air Guard is typically called upon when fires, which can be caused by lightning, unmonitored campfires or even arson, are seen in three or more pre-determined geographical areas.
“When that initial attack is high and there is a lot of competition for air resources to suppress those fires, that’s when we activate the MAFFS,” he said.
The MAFFS II tanking system was developed to slide into the fuselage of a C-130, and it can just as easily be removed when the mission is over, Domingues said.
“This system works perfectly with the C-130 and the Air National Guard because with the commercial air tankers, [their] systems are permanent and built onto the fuselage so removing them takes a lot of work and a lot of cost,” he said.
The new system allows the Forest Service and the Air Guard to have a more rapid turn around time so both agencies can get fire retardant or water out to the fire as soon as possible, Domingues said.
The support of civil authorities during natural disasters is a key and unique mission of the National Guard, said Army Maj. Gen. Gregory Lusk, the adjutant general of the North Carolina National Guard.
“The [MAFFS] mission is probably one of the seminal missions of the Air National Guard,” Lusk said, “representing everything from the interagency coordination between the U.S. Forest Service, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense and the various National Guard [units] that get called … to suppress forest fires.”
The MAFFS mission may also mean going outside the borders of the United States when requested.
“We can go international with the MAFFS II system,” Domingues said. “Last year we had orders to deploy overseas to assist [with a wildfire], but while en route we were called back and no longer needed,” Domingues said. “We also sent units down to Mexico last year to assist with wildfires down there too.”
According to Forest Service records, the agency has been working with the Air National Guard on fire suppression missions since the late 1960s and early ‘70s.
“It’s great working with you guys,” Domingues said. “You are very courteous, and have a professional demeanor even when things get hoppin’.”