Wednesday, July 16, 2014

SEAT base operational: Chadron Municipal Airport (KCDR), Nebraska

Area firefighters have seen relatively little action this summer thanks to cool, wet weather all spring, but should things heat up, they have a new tool to combat blazes that have the potential to grow into uncontrollable fires.

As of Tuesday, the SEAT (single engine air tanker) base at the Chadron Airport was operational and ready for duty. The plane and crew arrived Monday. Seth Peterson, a native of Osceola, is the SEAT base manager, and the plane came with a crew of two.

Peterson had been working on an engine crew in Kalispell, Mont., before taking the job as the Chadron SEAT base manager with the Nebraska Forest Service. The single engine air tanker is contracted to be based at the Chadron Airport for three months, and bases were also established at Valentine and Alliance for the plane to provide greater coverage to regional fires.

“We want to get that initial attack operation going as fast as possible, and keep the small fires small,” Peterson said.

The SEAT bases were approved by the Legislature after the 2012 fires through a bill introduced by Senator Al Davis. The Nebraska Forest Service operates the SEAT bases, and the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency handles the funding for the operations. Fire departments can request air support from the tanker by contacting NEMA; if the circumstances meet certain requirements, NEMA then contacts Great Plains Fire to dispatch the tanker.

The average time from the request to take-off from the airport is 20 minutes, Peterson said.

The plane’s most effective radius is from within 50 miles of base. By establishing bases in Valentine, Chadron and Alliance, and with the addition of a mobile base, the region should have good air support coverage.

“Having that local attack is going to greatly affect how many loads we can get out with good turnaround time,” Peterson said.

The plane can carry 700 gallons of retardant, which is essentially a fertilizer, and is capable of spreading foam or gel if the vegetation in the area of the fire calls for it.

Since the air tanker will only be stationed at Chadron for three months of the year, Peterson will remain available for dispatch to fires throughout the nation, and plans dedicate much of his time to fire prevention and training. He would like to see the communities in the Pine Ridge become “Firewise” communities. Firewise is a National Fire Protection Association program that teaches people how to adapt to living with wildfire and encourages them to take actions to prevent losses.

Peterson will also work with local departments, offering them training scenarios, though he said he will learn as much from them based on their experiences with the landscape as he will teach them.

“I’m very impressed with this area. It’s very encouraging to know those guys are going to be the ones out there,” he said.

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