By Air Force Capt. Alyson M. Teeter
Special to American Forces Press Service
July 7, 2008 - Crews from the California Air National Guard's 129th Rescue Wing are now certified to perform water bucket operations, making the 129th the only rescue unit in the Air Force and Air National Guard qualified to fight fires. The certification coincides with an early start to the fire season in northern California, which is where the 129th RQW is based.
The aircrews and their Pave Hawk helicopters have been on temporary duty here in support of Operation Lightning Strike, the California National Guard's firefighting support mission. While the equipment modifications and required training were being accomplished, the unit has maintained a continuous alert posture for search-and-rescue and high-risk medical-evacuation missions.
The 129th Rescue Wing is the lead wing for HH-60G Pave Hawk water bucket certification efforts, Air Force Lt. Col. Steve Butow, 129th Operations Group director, said. The training, equipment modifications and certification process lay the groundwork for other combat search-and-rescue wings to obtain water bucket certification.
"Joint firefighting operations are analogous to the joint combat search-and-rescue operating environment our crews will experience in combat environments," Air Force Lt. Col. Daniel Lapostole, 129th Rescue Squadron commander, said. "The training value is unmatched."
The training the aircrews received is in accordance with the California Interagency Military Helicopter Firefighting Program and was provided by certified California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection instructors.
The Air National Guardsmen and their aircraft now are certified to use the 660-gallon water bucket. The bucket is rigged for use with the helicopter's cargo hook, and water is released by a contact switch.
Once the crew receives orders to perform fire duty, maintainers must remove the internal auxiliary tank, install a radio and release switches, and then paint the aircraft with required markings. The water bucket is attached once the helicopter arrives for a firefighting mission. Simultaneously, the crews maintain airborne search-and-rescue alert.
The HH-60Gs also have an aerial-refueling capability that allows airmen to perform long rescue and firefighting-support missions. The aerial refueling is accomplished by the 129th RQW's MC-130P Combat Shadow tankers.
"Airmen from the 129th are motivated and ready to assist their neighbors in fighting the fires here in California," said Air Force Col. Amos Bagdasarian, 129th Rescue Wing commander. "Our search-and-rescue mission, coupled with the fire bucket certification, adds to the state's broad range of fire fighting capabilities."
(Air Force Capt. Alyson M. Teeter serves with 129th Rescue Wing Public Affairs.)