The December dinner meeting for the A.V. Chapter was Mr. Marshall Milles of the U.S. Forest Service. Mr. Milles presented a slide briefing on the history of the Fire Management Division (FMD) of the Forest Service and how FMD is organized and coordinates the activities of the various supporting organizations during a forest fire.
The Forest Service does not possess any of its own fire fighting tankers, the actual fire suppression aircraft are privately owned and on contract to the Forest Service. These private companies are paid to have the aircraft available at disposal bases and are additionally reimbursed for their flying activities. The fire suppression aircraft ranging from WWII vintage to modern tankers, are directed by the FMD which overflys the fire and directs the drops.
The chemicals used are composed of organic fertilizer plus rust inhibitors, coloring and agents to keep the chemicals in suspension. The effect of the chemicals is to retard the advance of the fire enabling ground units to extinguish the blaze. The retardants are dropped ahead of the fire, rather than on it which could cause spreading of the fire due to impact.
The fire suppression aircraft are dispersed at numerous airports normally less than 30 minutes flying time from high risk areas (potential forest fire areas). In the event of a major fire units are dispatched from all available sources including city, state, county, and federal agencies, including the military. The FMD is responsible for establishing these emergency operations and directing the efforts of all agencies. To better enable the FMD to direct the operation to the “hot spots” a Forest Service King Air equipped with infra-red sensors is used.
The Forest Service is developing new techniques and equipment to meet their needs. Research is presently being conducted on low light level TV. A recent forest fire in the Los Angeles area made history in that it was the first fire that used suppression aircraft at night. Helicopters were used by equipping the pilots with low light level amplification goggles.