Bye bye "Mitch"...Welcome "Grat"...

Text : Marc Arys  -  Pictures : Marc Arys & Tom Houquet (In flight pictures)  © sbap 2011



November 19, 2011 – 10.50’hrs. The scramble bell is ringing at the Air Support Unit of the Belgian Federal Police. At the shooting range in the Antwerp ‘Noordkempen’ a wildfire is raging through the thicket. Firefighters are already on the scene, but the help of fire fighting capable helicopters is needed. The stand-by crews rush to their helicopters and within minutes are airborne towards the scene…. 

Luckily, this was only an exercise.  The Air Support Unit of the Belgian Federal Police, together with the fire-brigades of Wuustwezel, Kalmthout, Lommel and Waismes were involved in a major fire-fighting exercise to process and implement the new standard procedures, drawn by these actors and the Ministry of Internal Affairs.  This co-operation is part of a general plan to cope with wildfire like those in the Hoge Venen, Midden Limburg and on the Kalmthoutse Heide. Engagements regarding the call out of the helicopters, the communication between the crew and the ground-staff and the co-operation on the scene. 

The exercise consisted of two parts, the first one being practise waterdrops onto traffic-cones to demonstrate the capabilities and precision of the Air Support Unit in this matter. The second part was a live fire exercise. On both exercises, the drops were ‘guided’ by ‘canaries’ – ground-staff called so because of their yellow fluorescent waistcoats. In addition to these waterdrops, a demonstration was given to fly in materials (cargosling) and to extract a fire-fighter from the danger zone (winching). During the exercises, a second helicopter provided live images relayed directly to the ground-station which allowed the operational command to adapt the strategy where needed.
At the moment, the Air Support Unit can rely on one collapsible Bambi-bucket, with a capacity of 910 liters, for fire-fighting interventions, but a second one has already been purchased by the Ministry of Internal Affairs together with a movable watertank, in case of problems to scope up the water out of ponds, rivers, streams or even sw
imming-pools. Some fire-fighters will also be sent to southern France to one of the fire-schools to learn more about the fire-fighting of wildfires.

Arrival on the site Visual recon of the area
Fire-fighters receiving an update on the Bambi-bucket, winching and cargosling The same was done regarding the imaging possibilities
Taking-off with the Bambi-bucket
Wildfire raging on G-16 in the heat haze. This helicopter provided real time imaging to a ground station allowing the commanding officer to adapt his fire-fighting strategy right away when needed
Scoping water in a pond  
Filling the Bambi-bucket - scoping 900 liters of water
Run-in with the bucket is always visual
 the operator directing the pilot to the right spot
Bambi-bucket run on the wildfire. The cameraship can be seen in the background  
Bambi-bucket run
  The result
Cargosling - attaching the underslung load Cargosling - the operator with the orange vest carries a 'grounding device' to 'ground' the helicopter and eliminating any static electricity that might have build up
  Dropping off the cargo load

Winching exercice - extracting a fire-fighter out of a dangerous area

Missions accomplished...back to the homebase at sunset


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