The use of aviation in the forest fire industry, aerial firefighting, has revolutionized the way people fight fires. It has also changed the way fire planners and park administrators view the management of forests, using aviation in off seasons to spark necessary fires for ecological and forest health. Aviation is used for the rehabilitation of forests, search and rescue, law enforcement, personnel transport, aerial photography as well as fire prevention and suppression. The US Forest Service, Fire and Aviation Management team lists this as their official stance on the use of aviation to combat fires.
The primary mission of the Forest Service Aviation is to support the ground firefighter through a variety of means including safe delivery of smokejumpers, rappellers, air attack, firefighter and cargo transport, surveillance, aerial reconnaissance and fire intelligence gathering, and aerial delivery of fire retardant and water.
The use of aviation is also an integral part of the National Fire Plan. This plan further instills the integral part aviation plays in the fight against wild fires especially those which are ignited in remote, difficult to access regions.
There is specific terminology related to aviation and firefighting.
The term Helitack references the use of aviation in firefighting. Additionally, Helibase refers to the base camp of Helitack operations where workers load, unload and where maintenance of the aircraft is held. Helirappellers are much like smokejumpers however, instead of jumping into fire zones via parachute, they rappel out of helicopters into hot zones.
Because of the role aviation plays in combating forest fires, there are an integral number of jobs related to the use of aviation in forest firefighting. This includes pilots, technicians and of course the firefighters involved in aviation combat such as smoke jumpers and helirappellers.
Pilots and Mechanics
Jobs involved in aviation and firefighting are fairly specialized and require a more extensive and experienced background. Positions such as pilots and helicopter mechanics are occupations that take years of training and study to achieve. Many of the US Forest Service pilot positions are contract positions and are only for pilots with years of experience. Pilots and mechanical engineers who are interested in applying for a position are encouraged to apply at the local level in Regional Offices. The positions are listed as competitive and are historically only given to those with a great deal of experience and skill. Training involves flight tests and safety seminars. Fire and Aviation Management considers safety and safe flying practices one of the most important aspects of flying and safety measures are taken extremely seriously because of the nature of the work. Background checks and work experience are taken equally as seriously and Fire and Aviation Management take great pains to ensure that their pilots are capable enough to handle the uniqueness of the work.