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Supervisors approve USFS firefighting helicopter grant

Joe Naiman

Village News Reporter

The County of San Diego’s Sheriff’s Department and the United States Forest Service had been in discussion for a grant to help fund a twin-engine firefighting helicopter. After the Sheriff’s Department was notified that the grant would be awarded, San Diego County Board of Supervisors approval was necessary. The county supervisors voted 4-0 Nov. 7, with one vacant seat, to ratify the grant application and accept the $3,750,000 grant.

Because the Sheriff’s Department already had helicopter infrastructure in place through the Aerial Support To Regional Enforcement Areas (ASTREA) program, the firefighting helicopters are under the auspices of the Sheriff’s Department rather than under the San Diego County Fire Protection District.

The Sheriff’s Department provides pilots and mechanics along with equipment for the helicopters while the county contracts with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to staff the helicopters.

The county currently has three Bell 205 firefighting helicopters along with Bell 407 helicopters which are assigned to the law enforcement program but have the capability to support the fire and life safety program in the event of a wildfire or during high-risk weather conditions.

In March 2023, the Sheriff's Department learned of a funding opportunity from the U.S. Forest Service’s Community Project Funding/Congressionally Directed Spending program. The county sought the $3,750,000 grant and was notified of the grant award pending Board of Supervisors ratification on Sept. 1. The grant period covers Oct. 1, 2023, through Sept. 30, 2027.

The Sheriff’s Department received the USFS application packet July 14. The submission deadline was Aug. 4. The Board of Supervisors had no regular meetings between July 19 and Aug. 29, so there was not sufficient time for proper noticing of a Board of Supervisors hearing to approve the grant application prior to the deadline.

The Sheriff’s Department and the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors waited until the internal processes were completed to docket the grant action.

The new helicopter will augment the three existing firefighting aircraft. The twin-engine helicopter can also be used for medical and hoist rescues in remote areas of the county and for other search and rescue operations.

Any additional funding needed for the purchase and ongoing maintenance of the helicopter will be included in a future Sheriff's Department budget.


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