The Nevada County Air Park was teeming with emergency personnel and vehicles Thursday morning for an aviation operational briefing.
The briefing is an annual refresher course to ensure clear communication and coordination between emergency agencies and to expose new members to the various vehicles and procedures.
The Cal Fire 4 station at the Nevada County Air Park serves Nevada, Placer, Yuba, Sutter, and El Dorado counties.
“We use this for ground and air cooperation and communication,” said Cal Fire Battalion Chief John Messina. “We bring everyone locally and they get a hands-on, show-and-tell of the ground resources.”
Various emergency aircraft were brought in, including Cal Fire Air Attack 230 and Tanker 88 and 89, as well as California Highway Patrol helicopter H-24, Calstar 3, REACH 7, Sacramento Metro Fire Copter 1 and Tahoe National Forest Copter 514. Along with Cal Fire, personnel from air ambulance provider Calstar, Penn Valley, Grass Valley, Nevada County Consolidated and Rough and Ready fire departments also attended.
“We try to bring in all co-ops possibly involved in an emergency incident,” said Cal Fire Prevention Coordinator Lynne Tolmachoff. “We want everybody to be safe and get the job done.” The air tankers are responsible for fast, initial attack delivery of fire retardant on wildland fires, according to the Cal Fire website. The tankers can carry 1,200 gallons of retardant, made of a combination of soap and fertilizer, and are manned by a single pilot.
The aircraft were built in the 1950s and have been restored through hand craftsmanship, Tolmachoff said.
“If we need a new part, they will make it by hand at the McClellan Airfield in Sacramento,” she said.
The Cal Fire OV 10-Bronco aircraft is responsible for aerial command and control of aircraft on wildland fires, according to the department website. The crew coordinates with emergency ground services to provide information about the location and spread of fires and directs air tanker and helicopters on where to drop retardant and water.
The S-2s tankers were manufactured by Grumman Aerospace, can carry 1,200 gallons of retardant and were reconditioned with turboprop engines in the early 1960s, which Joseph Satrapa, firefighter pilot of 22 years, said was a great improvement.
The helicopters serve as the emergency pickup for injured patients and carry 900-gallon buckets of water that are taken from nearby lakes, which are later restored.
Retardant is stored at the airport station, where emergency aircraft can refuel and fly again.
During the show-and-tell part of the briefing, some emergency personnel described their jobs and shared stories of their experiences. Chief Flight Nurse Bob Griffith said the worst part about flying into a fire is the smoke.
“It’s really hard to see. It’s like smog, but worse,” he said. “If you get a big fire, the whole area gets heavy smoke, and some days you can’t fly.” Kelly D’Agostini has worked for Calstar for more than 12 years as a chief flight nurse.
She worked at Mercy San Juan Hospital in the Intensive Care Unit and the emergency room but found flight nursing to require more critical thinking skills.
“You have to be able to care for any type of patient, from a baby to a pregnant mom,” she said. “In a hospital, you have doctors and nurses and (here) we have (one other nurse). We have to rely on each other.”
Tolmachoff urged those who spot an emergency aircraft to not jump to conclusions, as there could be multiple reasons, other than local emergencies, for the aircraft being in the air.
“If the aircraft is passing by, it may be going to another area, or it could be a practice training,” she said. “Unless it is circling above your house, there is no need to be alarmed.”
To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4230.