Ensuring Preparedness - Single Engine Air Tankers and Firefighters Train to Ensure Wildfire Readiness

BLM Arizona’s Gila District is the host to the Safford Air Operations Center located at the airport in Safford. This Air Operations Center plays a very important role during the peak of Arizona’s fire activity by having the ability to support multiple aviation resources, more specifically Single Engine Airtankers. A single engine airtanker, or SEAT, is the smallest airtanker. These aircraft can deliver up to 800 gallons of fire retardant or water to wildland firefighters on the ground and are ideal for wildfires in lighter fuels like grasses and light brush.

Sign - Safford Air Operations Center located at the Safford Airport in Safford Arizona.
Sign at the Safford Air Operations Center, co-located at the Safford, Arizona Airport.

Recently, SEATs based at the Safford Air Operations Center performed a mission currency flight, which allows the SEAT pilots to test and display performance and functionality of the aircraft. They performed this session much like a live training scenario with a simulated fire which included the local Gila District fire engines and firefighters based in Safford. "It was an excellent opportunity for the firefighters to go through the process of requesting an aviation resource from dispatch, for the SEAT pilots to receive the dispatch order, respond to the incident, and communicate with Tucson Dispatch Center," said Gila District Unit Aviation Manager Ty Gilstrap. "This training opportunity allowed the Safford SEATs to practice coordinating with firefighters on the ground – testing both air to air communication between the pilots and air-to-ground communication and protocols as, well as ensuring preparedness for a wildfire," said Arizona State Aviation Manager Don Juan Kilmer.

Single engine airtanker flying and dropping water on the landscape below
Single Engine Airtanker (SEAT) dropping water on the landscape below as part of training and required assessment checks.

All resources involved in the exercise met up at the Air Operations Center upon completion of the flight and facilitated an After-Action Review (AAR), allowing the firefighters and pilots to speak with each other to help improve operations and be mission ready. Overall, it was an excellent training experience for everyone involved! Great job Gila District on seeing and taking the opportunity for continued training and ensuring readiness.

Single engine airtanker on the ground at the Safford Air Ops Center loading with water for a practice drop
Single Engine Airtanker (SEAT) being loaded with water as part of the training and systems assessment.
Blog Topic: