Aerial firefighting: A crucial tool to protect resources

An air tanker drops retardant on the Olinda Fire burning in Anderson, Calif., October, 2020. Photo: Stratos Brilakis, via Shutterstock

As lawmakers across the country return to their Capitol posts, some are kicking off the new year with legislation calling for increased wildfire resources, funding, upgrades, and additional aircraft and crew.

A bill introduced in Washington requests $125 million for wildfire response over the next two years and in California, Gov. Newsom’s recent budget calls for $1 billion to fund wildfire resiliency and emergency response. These specific calls for resources come after both states experienced the most destructive and deadly wildfire seasons in recent history.

Aerial Firefighting offers endless possibilities for the future of wildfire management.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen the devastation first-hand while I was serving as the National Guard dual-status commander for the Camp Fire in Paradise, California.

The Camp Fire was a deadly fire that decimated the entire town of Paradise. Among other things, the experience taught me a lot about how my home state of California and others can adapt and rise to the challenges that mega-wildfires bring. We must continue to incorporate new strategies and adopt innovative technology that will help us protect more homes and lives.

One quickly-advancing sector is Aerial Firefighting. Aerial Firefighting offers endless possibilities for the future of wildfire management because it provides additional capacity to the ground crews from the air and has uncapped potential for technological advancements that will surely shape the future of firefighting.

Now is the time to explore new innovations and firefighting systems that can be used to fight fires in California, because as we all know, the wildfire seasons are just getting worse over time.

The good news is there are systems being developed and tested in our own backyard that will bring our firefighting capabilities to the next level.

One Fresno-based company, Caylym Technologies, has developed an advanced Aerial Firefighting system called The Guardian that has been used successfully abroad to effectively and immediately fight fires and save civilian lives.

The Guardian is a corrugated container that holds 264 gallons of liquid and can be loaded onto on any rear-loading cargo aircraft requiring no modifications. Adding the Guardian to our arsenal would significantly expand aerial firefighting capabilities because it can be carried by numerous aircraft and complete multiple missions in one trip.

This system has already proven its effectiveness in Romania, Greece, Peru, and later this year will roll out in Israel. It’s an effective tool that could immediately help curb wildfire destruction and support the limited resources firefighters have to combat increasingly fierce wildfires year-round, 24-7.

Hindsight is 20-20 and you can’t measure the negative, but when reflecting on my experiences in 2018 at the Camp Fire, I can’t help but think we could’ve saved more lives with the help of The Guardian system by dropping water or approved retardant on the perimeter of the exit road to protect the fleeing residents, helping to get them out of the burning town safer and quicker.

This technology could have also been used to drop around power lines before the fire started.  By dropping the Guardian system preemptively along the power lines, before red flag warnings, could reduce risks and also eliminate the need to shut them down so that the people of California will not have power interruptions.

Our country has the potential to lead the industry with innovative technologies and forward-thinking strategies, but only if we invest in and support these new systems that can save more lives and homes. I suggest we take note of the perils of 2020 and convert our learnings into quick legislative action to protect our first responders, civilians, and critical infrastructure in the future.

Editor’s Note:  Dana Hessheimer, retired Brigadier General and former National Guard dual-status commander for the Camp Fire

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