New York Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk aircrews from the 3rd Battalion, 142nd Aviation Regiment, dropped more than 100,000 gallons of water July 13 through 15 on a 526-acre forest fire burning in Flat Rock State Forest.
The fire, located 10 miles south of the Canadian border just outside New York’s Adirondack Park, began on July 12.
More than 200 personnel – including New York State forest rangers, Department of Environmental Conservation fire crews and local volunteer fire departments – were part of the response. Crews from Quebec and Vermont also responded, according to Clinton County emergency officials.
With temperatures in the 80s that weekend, the more than six hours in the air were fatiguing for the pilots and aircrew, said New York Army National Guard CW3 Tom Brunschmid, one of the pilots.
New York State Police helicopters were initially called in to fight the fire. The New York State Police flies civilian versions of the UH-1 Huey helicopter and can deploy firefighting buckets, which can drop 220 gallons of water.
On July 13, the New York Army National Guard was asked to put two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and eight aircrew members on standby at Army Aviation Support Facility #3 in Latham, New York. The UH-60s can deploy firefighting buckets that can hold 660 gallons of water. That afternoon, the two aircraft were deployed to the Plattsburgh area to support fire crews.
The two UH-60s flew 73 drop missions on July 13, dumping more than 48,000 gallons of water on the fire before returning to Latham after dark.
On July 15, the New York Army National Guard aircrews were deployed again. The two UH-60s delivered 52,800 gallons of water on the fire in 80 drop missions. Each fully loaded helicopter bucket weighs more than 5,400 pounds.
The helicopters used a lake two miles away from the fire site to fill the buckets, CW3 Brunschmid said.
On both days, the aircrews had to stop and refuel three times due to the amount of fuel used from transporting such heavy loads.
On July 15, fire officials declared the fire 40 percent contained.
Each spring, a select number of pilots and crew chiefs prepare to fight wildfires through training that includes picking up and dumping water with the helicopter buckets. The pilots need the additional practice because a helicopter has a much different feel when it is carrying 5,400 pounds of water underneath it.
SSG Jimmy Rose, a crew chief, said National Guard Soldiers were excited about the opportunity to support their State. “Reacting to State emergencies are the best types of missions,” he said. “You’re working for the people of New York State, and when you’re doing your job, that’s who I prefer to do it for.”
By Eric Durr and SPC Andrew Valenza, New York National Guard