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Agreement made to use SDG&E helicopter for firefighting

The County of San Diego has added to its aerial arsenal with an agreement between the county and San Diego Gas & Electric to utilize an SDG&E helicopter for firefighting purposes if necessary.

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 October 20 to authorize an agreement with SDG&E for use of the utility company’s S-64E Helitanker.

The supervisors’ approval also directs the county’s Chief Administrative Officer to integrate that S-64E Helitanker into the county’s aerial fire protection program.

“It’s preparedness,” said Supervisor Ron Roberts. “If it’s needed, it’s there. We don’t have to have a meeting.”

San Diego Gas & Electric has acquired an S-64E Helitanker, which is now called “The Incredible Hulk,” to perform heavy-duty work.

The S-64E can stay airborne for two and a half hours before needing to refuel.

If it is used for fire suppression, the S-64 can carry and unload more than 2,600 gallons of water per trip and requires less than a minute to refill its tank for the next drop.

If a water source is close enough to a fire, the S-64E can drop between 20,000 and 30,000 gallons of water per hour and 70,000 to 80,000 gallons on a single fuel load.

“This is a good piece of equipment,” said Supervisor Dianne Jacob.

The County of San Diego purchased two Bell 205 A-1 firefighting helicopters in 2004 and took delivery of the aircraft in 2005.

In 2008 the county approved a seasonal lease of two Superscooper firefighting fixed-wing aircraft along with a tactical aircraft.

This year the enhancement program was modified to a year-round “call when needed” approach which included payment of standby fees for prepositioning of aircraft prior to a forecasted wind event.

Since the S-64E can also be used for fighting fires as well as for the heavy-duty work for which SDG&E will use “The Incredible Hulk,” SDG&E offered to allow the county to use the helicopter during daylight hours to be in a position to fight fires and also offered to cover up to two hours of flight time per incident.

“It’s a good opportunity,” Jacob said.

Under the agreement, the county will fund up to 20 hours of flight time for fires.

If the fire lasts longer than two hours, the county will make “The Incredible Hulk” available to local fire protection agencies at no additional cost.

The county will seek reimbursement from the state or Federal governments where possible if such incidents occur.

The agreement’s cost to the county will depend on flight time and reimbursements but is not expected to cost more than $150,000 annually.

The agreement saves the county approximately $60,000 per incident should positioning of a helicopter in a high-risk situation be necessary.

The cost for a similar helitanker is approximately $15,000 per hour, and other agreements have a four-hour minimum.

The agreement allows the county to have a helicopter in place at no cost if a fire does not break out, and during extreme fire conditions it will also allow the county to preposition two helitankers.

“It’s absolutely critical,” Roberts said. “SDG&E was very generous in providing it.”


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