The Rainbow Municipal Water District will be adding a Heli-Hydrant fire protection system on its Pala Mesa site.
A 5-0 Rainbow board vote May 25 added the Heli-Hydrant project to Rainbow's capital improvement plan, appropriated $149,728 from the district's capital reserve fund, and authorized Rainbow general manager Tom Kennedy to execute the contracts required to procure and install the equipment.
"We're really excited about this," Kennedy said.
Prior to 2012 firefighting helicopters extracted water from reservoirs which were not covered at the time. Rainbow installed floating covers on three of the district's four reservoirs in 2012. The other reservoir, the Beck Reservoir, was drained and taken out of service. The lack of available reservoirs forced the aerial firefighters to use seasonal ponds, but those ponds are not reliable sources of water. The pond must be deep enough to accommodate a bucket or snorkel, debris in seasonal ponds can often clog suction lines, and power lines may prevent aerial access to a pond.
Whaling Fire Line Equipment, which is headquartered in Santa Clarita, has created and patented the Heli-Hydrant system. A pilot or other aircraft crew member remotely activates a snorkel site. The pilot signals the Heli-Hydrant upon the aircraft's approach, and a tank 12 feet in diameter and five feet deep can be filled in 120 seconds.
The actual fill time depends on the gallons per minute and pounds per square inch delivery of the water source. A float valve which is part of the Heli-Hydrant is secured to keep the tank topped off. Each Heli-Hydrant has drain valves controlled by a radio signal from the aircraft. Redundant power sources such as rechargeable solar batteries, a solar-powered recharging system, and a manual switch ensure that loss of electrical power to the Heli-Hydrant has a minimal effect on its operational ability.
Currently the only Heli-Hydrant in use is in Yorba Linda, so the Rainbow one will be the first in San Diego County. Rainbow worked with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the North County Fire Protection District to find an appropriate site for the Heli-Hydrant. The criteria included no power lines, a site elevated or on top of a hill, a site which provides a 360 degree view, and adequate water pressure and volume to refill the Heli-Hydrant.
Only sites on Rainbow-owned property were considered so that no property purchase would be required. The evaluation team considered inside Beck Reservoir, on top of the hill near Beck Reservoir, the district yard, the Rainbow Hills Reservoir, and the Pala Mesa site. The Pala Mesa site met all of the criteria. CalFire flew over the site to verify its ability to provide the necessary support, and a meeting at the site was held with the participating agencies to verify that the Pala Mesa site would meet all of the requirements.
CalFire has agreed to clear the site of vegetation and to maintain the site. Rainbow will grade the area and install associated piping. The water used will be metered, so Rainbow's cost for that water can be documented for reimbursement.
"Hopefully we're going to have it installed and in place by the end of the summer," Kennedy said.