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Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA) in partnership with Southern California Edison (SCE) have contracted Coulson Aviation USA to bring its state-of-the-art night vision goggle (NVG) aerial firefighting program to the U.S.
“Edison is making significant investments to assist firefighting capabilities across our service area to protect our customers and communities from the ongoing threat of wildfires,” said Chris Thompson, SCE’s vice president of local public affairs. “This most recent project is an opportunity for Edison to accelerate the first U.S. deployment of this innovative firefighting technology. Since more than a third of our service area is located in state‐designated High Fire Risk areas, it’s essential for us to regularly partner with fire authorities on groundbreaking programs like this.”
The “Next Generation Aerial Operations Based Pilot Program” is a 150-day night aerial firefighting program that is structured similarly to the highly successful program in Victoria, Australia. It comprises use of a Type 1 helitanker (1,000+ gallons) capable of hover-filling at night from the nearest available water source or portable tank, and a Type 2 intelligence-gathering helicopter.
The Type 1 helitanker providing night fire suppression, working in coordination with an intelligence gathering helicopter for risk/benefit decision-making, will be the first of its kind in the U.S.
“This could be a game-changer thanks to Southern California Edison. Fighting wildfires at night is optimal because weather conditions are more favorable – temperatures are down, humidity up and winds typically lighter,” said Orange County Fire Authority fire chief Brian Fennessy. “The ability to have this aerial resource that can precisely drop large volumes of water on a fire will make a significant difference. And the ability to measure its effectiveness will help us determine if the success outweighs the risk.”
The Type I helicopter that Coulson will operate is a Sikorsky S-61N for the night fire suppression operation, as well as the smaller Type 2 Sikorsky S-76B helicopter to conduct reconnaissance and provide a supervision platform. The S-76B is NVG-equipped and is fitted with an HD thermal imaging camera to assist in the safe management of night fire suppression operations and hot spot detection.
“This Night Program is an extension of the excellent work started in Australia by Emergency Management Victoria, National Ariel Firefighting Centre and Civil Aviation Safety Authority. We believe we have a safety-first night firefighting operation that will benefit the firefighters and communities we serve,” said Wayne Coulson of Coulson Aviation Inc.
This new asset is operating under an exclusive-use contract with OCFA and available to respond on a seven days a week, 24-hour basis to fire agency requests within Southern California.