If you notice more helicopters in the air in and around Highland, there’s a reason. Sheriff’s Aviation has completed its move from Rialto Airport to San Bernardino International Airport. That includes helicopters and fixed wing aircraft ranging from Cessnas to the King Air, which can whisk local officials to Sacramento faster, cheaper and more conveniently than flying commercial.
But the backbone of the Sheriff’s Air Force is the ASTAR helicopter used for law enforcement, firefighting, and search and rescue. One helicopter is equipped with full medical supplies and flies with a paramedic to handle disasters and medical emergencies. It can be reconfigured with fire retardant when needed.
Much of the division’s time is taken up by search and rescue where the helicopter’s speed and flexibility are unmatched.
“Usually we spend several minutes on checkout before we launch,” says Captain Dale Gregory, commander of the Sheriff’s Aviation unit. “But in an emergency, we can launch in a minute or so.”
Each aircraft is put through a routine checkup twice a day, Gregory said.
Many of the 1,800 volunteers are doctors, nurses and paramedics who respond to highway crashes and other medical emergencies, providing assistance in the “golden hour” of medical need.
One helicopter is stationed at Apple Valley for desert situations, but the primary office is at San Bernardino International.
The six ASTAR helicopters can readily be equipped for fire suppression, either with a belly attachment or with a water bucket. A fire department staff is available at the office command center to respond when needed.
“They (airport officials) have been very good to us,” Gregory says. “They bend over backward to make us feel welcome.”
That includes providing a temporary 50,000 square foot hangar and separate office for operations while the new 8-acre Sheriff’s Aviation facility is being built. It’s supposed to be ready by the end of the year.
Because of the airport’s designation as an international airport, Sheriff’s Aviation must include TSA security in its plans, restricting access to much of the facility.
There will be new space for administration, maintenance and repair, storage and space for the planes and helicopters.
Sheriff’s Aviation is temporarily housed in a hangar just east of the airport terminal building.
In its new permanent home, it will be even closer to Highland at the south end of Victoria Avenue, available 24/7 for all situations.