Being able to get a victim out of harm's way during an air rescue is no easy task for Cal Fire crews. The Tehama-Glenn Cal Fire unit performs about a half dozen air rescues a year, from pulling distressed people out of the water to assisting fall victims in rugged terrain. An operation usually requires firefighters using hand signals to communicate with each other and looking for potential hazards on the ground.
Battalion Chief Randy Rapp says, "You could be flying over tall trees, mountainous terrain, rocky cliffs, power lines, any of those sorts of things."
The Vina Helitack Base recently got a new hoist system installed in its helicopter to improve conditions for future rescues. Before, rescue crews would use a rope system where the victim would have to be flown to a safe area for transport while still attached to the helicopter. With the new hoist system, they're able to bring the victim up into the helicopter, making things both easier and safer for firefighters.
"We don't need quite as many personnel to do hoist operations as we did with short haul. Doing any air rescue operation is hazardous in nature so the less people we have doing the operation the better off we are," says Rapp.
The new equipment features 250 ft. of stainless steel cable with a carrying capacity of up to 600 lbs. The short haul rope system only allowed firefighters about 190 ft. Although the older equipment proved to be successful, Rapp say crews like the updated gear.
"It's a better operation as far as efficiency with the hoist. So everybody is really excited and we're just waiting for our first rescue," he says.
The Tehama-Glenn Cal Fire unit is the second station to get the hoist system. All 11 Cal Fire helicopters statewide are expected to have the new equipment put in place by the end of the year.