GAYLORD — Air Attack Platform. Fire Boss. 19 Bravo Hotel.
These are the names of three specialized firefighting aircraft that have been stationed at the Gaylord Regional Airport for a little over two weeks.
The aircraft come courtesy of a firefighting crew from Minnesota, which is one of many contracted out to travel all across the country to help areas facing increased fire risk.
“We have agreements with other states and DNR’s that allow us to get a call to an area,” Dave Frick, base manager, said. “Generally we look at the dryness of the area, but we’ll also look at five indexes, a mathematical equation on the current conditions for wind, precipitation, and that kind of thing.”
According to Frick, whenever the crew gets a fire assignment, they typically have a ground crew stationed for 14 days and a pilot and fuel driver stationed for 12 days.
If they are required to stay in the area longer than two weeks, a different crew will come out to replace them.
Along with expertise and additional manpower, the Minnesota crew brings with them three specialized firefighting aircraft.
The first, called an Air Attack Platform, is an aircraft from Canada that is allowed to assist the crew.
“Air Attack flies high around the fire in circles and orders resources,” Frick said. “He’s in contact with people on the ground. When another aircraft comes, he’s the point of contact.”
“One of the things we like about this aircraft is it has high wings so it can see down on the fire, and it’s quick and flies low,” Frick said.
While the Air Attack Platform serves as overwatch for fires, the Fire Boss 204 serves as the main combatant, capable of carrying 800 gallon loads of water.
“Fire boss is on floats and scoops water up in its two tanks,” Frick said. “Usually it takes about a mile long stretch of water for it to fill up completely.”
Used for initial fire attack, Fire Boss is typically quick to get on fires with its large tank and 1600 horsepower engine.
“It’s nice because it can drop either a single load or multiple loads,” Frick said.
The third aircraft included in the crew is a helicopter the crew calls 19 Bravo Hotel L4.
According to Frick, sometimes a situation may call for just the helicopter to be sent first before sending Air Attack and Fire Boss.
The helicopter flies around the fire and does high orbit to look for water and a landing zone. When it goes into low orbit, everyone is watching for hazards, posts and towers.
“On the helicopter we have the pilot plus three crew members,” Dustin Nelson, helicopter manager, said. “It’s got a 140 gallon bucket and we get water from lakes, ponds, or wherever we can scoop it up quickly. The closer we are to water the quicker we can get on the fire.”
“Once they search for hazards and find a landing zone, they land in that and put the water bucket on,” Frick said. “The pilot leaves with the bucket to fill up and the crew goes on to the fire.”
Though the crew has not had many fires to battle since they’ve been stationed in Gaylord, they were called to the Hiawatha National Forest July 10 and used all three aircraft.
“We went to the Upper Peninsula at the forest near Hessel,” Frick said. “For that one, Fire Boss dropped 22 loads and the helicopter dumped 77 buckets.”
When they’re not called to assist with fires, Frick said the crew stays around the airport and goes through a list of daily activities.
“In the morning we’ll have a briefing and talk about weather, what radio frequency we need to be on, and people swaps if there are any,” he said. “We cover weather big time and if there are other aircraft around the area we need to know about.”
When the crew gets word of a fire, like they did for the Hiawatha forest fire, they get a dispatch from the Huron-Manistee National Forests Ranger Station in Cadillac.
“Cadillac will dispatch us and we’ll get an email called a kneeboard,” Frick explained. “That will have things like the fire location, type of fire, latitude and longitude, and distance. It’ll also have the frequencies we need to be on as well as hazards in the area and other aircrafts to know about.”
Overall, Frick said he and his crew have been very pleased with their stay in the area.
“This is a really nice spot in Gaylord,” he said. “The people have been very nice and accommodating. We’d love to come back in the future if we’re asked.”