Saturday, September 24, 2011

Water-Dropping Choppers Now Within 30 Seconds of Chatsworth, Bell Canyon, California. Fire Department prepares for 2011 wildfire season on the ground and in the air.

Command Pilot Scot Davison flies this AW139 helicopter, a new addition to Los Angeles Fire Department’s fleet. The water-dropping helicopter is one of six helicopters among the city’s arsenal of fire-fighting equipment.
Photo Credit Marianne Love 

When every moment is critical, water-dropping helicopters will be just 30 seconds away from any wildfire in Chatsworth, fire officials said on Friday.

Since the 2010 fire season, the Los Angeles Fire Department gained exclusive access to four helicopter pads at a helispot above the Chatsworth Reservoir at the north end of Fallbrook Avenue.

Before, the water-dropping and air ambulance helicopters had to make their way to Chatsworth from Porter Ranch or Kittridge landing sites six minutes away in opposite directions.

The Chatsworth Neighborhood Council supported installation of the helipads for refueling and loading water back in August of 2009.

“It was a major accomplishment to get this helispot built. It will save time (during Chatsworth emergencies),” said Command Pilot Scot Davison. “We can fill four helicopters simultaneously (to protect) the Chatsworth area, the Chatsworth Reservoir and Bell Canyon.”

Davison said the fire department is working on keeping the noise from the helicopters to a minimum. He stressed, however, that if they are in the air it’s because of either an emergency or for training purposes.

Davison was one of many fire fighters, top fire brass officials and volunteer 
crews who held a news conference from the Chatsworth helispot to unveil the city’s preparation tactics and the department’s “Ready, Set, Go” campaign designed to help residents prepare in the event of a major disaster and the threat of the 2011 brush fire season.

Fire Chief Brian Cummings said those living near brush-covered hillsides, canyons, state and national forests and rugged terrain also need to be prepared to protect their homes and families as wildfire season approaches.

“Have an emergency plan and discuss it with your family especially where living space encroaches hillsides,” Cummings said. “We are prepared. Now it’s time to prepare your families.”

Cummings said his department is ready to handle emergencies.

“We have equipment and plans in place,” Cummings said.

On Tuesday, however, Cummings told the city's Fire Commission that the fire department was strapped for cash to pay overtime in emergencies and he planned to ask the City Council for more money.

On Sept. 5, the department deployed 53 firetrucks and ambulances and two helicopters to three separate brush fires, one of which scorched about 40 acres off Mandeville Canyon Road in Brentwood. The other two blazes were near Agua Dulce and Sun Valley.

At the day's peak, 14 fire stations were left without any firefighting

vehicles. Department officials said adjacent stations were equipped with fire engines.

On Friday, a “red flag” warning was issued due to winds and dry lighting. The warning means there’s a high risk of wildfire. The culprit may be thunderstorms that could produce bolts of dry lightning, resulting in the possibility of setting a fire especially in vulnerable locations where the vegetation is extremely dry.

Cummings said it’s important for homeowners to adhere to brush clearance regulations. He said his department is out there citing those who are out of compliance.

Some of the ways to prepare for brush fires include removing brush for a minimum of 100 feet to creating what fire officials call “defensible space” around a home.

Also remove tree limbs hanging over a house and remove all leaves, pine needs and debris from roof gutters.

It’s a good idea to replace shake-shingle roofs with tile or other fire-resistant materials and have emergency supplies ready in case of evacuation.

And also, plan at least two escape routes out of a neighborhood and establish a meeting place with family members.

The Los Angeles Fire Department has six helicopters in its fleet, five of which are water-dropping units. An Erickson Air Crane, an aerial suppression unit, has been leased until January and three dozers and other heavy equipment are at the department’s disposal.

For more information about the “Ready, Set, Go” campaign, visit

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