Wednesday, May 24, 2017

San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department shows off Aviation Unit’s new home

SAN BERNARDINO — Under cyan-colored skies on a hot Tuesday morning, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department and San Bernardino County Fire Department aviation personnel began to gear up for a hoist rescue.

The four-man team, comprised of sheriff’s pilots and County Fire air medics, efficiently placed a stranded victim into a rescue harness and hoisted the man to the Air Rescue 308 helicopter. While medical aid was on hand, it wasn’t needed at this particular rescue — the victim, a sheriff’s deputy, was participating in an aviation demo hosted on Tuesday.

Together with the County Fire, Sheriff John McMahon and several officials hosted a luncheon at the San Bernardino International Airport Tuesday morning. The airport is now the home for the sheriff’s Aviation Unit and boasts an expanded, 51,000-square-foot hangar that houses all 15 of the department’s aircraft.

Gleaming helicopters and small planes, emblazoned with the Sheriff’s Department logo, were on full display during Tuesday’s event as officials spoke about the new hangar and how it continues to facilitate mutual operations between both departments.

“We used to have some helicopters at our hangar in Rialto and others in other locations, but now we can house them all together, which makes operations much easier,” McMahon said.

The Sheriff’s Aviation Unit is one part of the two-section Emergency Operations Division, which employs 50 personnel and manages thousands of reserve deputies and other volunteers throughout the county. Volunteer Forces Unit Lt. Al Daniel said these volunteers play a key role in various sheriff’s operations, such as assisting in rescues and evacuations during the Blue Cut Fire last year.

“These people volunteered thousands of hours to assist us in various duties — leaving their personal careers to come help us — at no cost to the taxpayer. They’ve saved the county over $10 million just in the last year,” Daniel said.

Daniel wasn’t exaggerating. The Aviation Unit received over 10,000 calls for service last year, according to sheriff’s officials, logging almost 4,500 hours of flight time. Thanks to the efforts of the volunteer forces, the Emergency Operations Division completed 265 search-and-rescue operations in 2016.

Several local media outlets were invited to tour the new hangar and watch personnel demonstrate their skills with two simulations. The first was a water drop, where pilots use a special harness to scoop up water that can then be dropped over fires. The Aviation Unit has been instrumental in combating wildfires in the region, County Fire Assistant Chief Tim Porter said.

“(The helicopters) provide aerial support while we’re on the ground fighting the fires or attempting to find stranded victims for a hoist rescue,” Porter said. “They even come equipped with infrared scanners that can map fires and pinpoint hot spots we wouldn’t be able to find on the ground.”

The bond between both departments was plain to see at Tuesday’s event, with officials from both departments praising each other’s efforts in providing the best they can to the region’s residents.

“Some law enforcement agencies can get competitive, but not us — we truly enjoy working together,” McMahon said. “We’re committed to providing the best standard of public safety to San Bernardino County.”

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