Our Herioic Firefighing Pilots.
As we all know in Zakynthos we have a lot of forests fires every summer. The responsibility of controlling and putting these out falls to our wonderful fire department, who are assisted by the amazing fire plane and fire helicopter pilots. I was fortunate to meet up with one of the helicopter pilots recently and asked him a little bit about his job.
When is a firefighter aircraft called in?
‘’ The decision on when and if a fire helicopter or a fire plane is needed is made by the ‘men on the ground’. Once we have been called to the fire we need to be in the air within in 15 minutes. Therefore every morning our first job when we arrive at the base is to check the helicopter is 100 per cent ready for action, this process takes approximately 20 minutes .
When we are first called to the fires I need to know, the exact location of the fire including how mountainous it is, the weather conditions on the ground at the fire, if there are other aircraft on the call or other craft which will be dispatched and how far is the nearest refueling site. The particular helicopter I fly, the Erickson Skycrane, can fly a distance of 500km.
I never consider any area to be more difficult than another one, however the strong winds and mountain terrain can be challenging to some!
Fortunately there are not fires every day!
Days spent on the ground.
On days that there are no fires after getting the helicopter ready we just wait around the base, on ground training of new flight crews, catching up on paperwork, reading watching movies and waiting to be called. The helicopters must be ready to fly from sun up till sun down.
I’m often asked why I do this job , I feel it is a noble occupation being able to save lives and properties from certain destruction, Unfortunately we don’t win ever time which is very frustrating and disappointing, but we do succeed more times than not.
People like to know at what age we can fly till. We are be able to work in Europe and fly until the young age of 65! In the USA and Australia , where we also work there is no upper age limit, the only requirement is that pilots pass an annual medical examination specific to aviation!
There are 7 bases that the fire helicopters are based at and 6 that the fire planes are based at in Greece. During the summer in Greece there are Russian Mil 8 and Kamov KA32, the French Puma helicopter , the American Chinook and the Erickson Skycrane helicopters. There are also the Canadian built Canadair fire bomber aeroplanes operated by the Greek airforce. The Puma which is the smallest helicopter carries 2 tonnes of water and the largest the Skycrane and the Chinook carry up to 10 tonnes of water.
The water is gathered usually from the sea but we can also use rivers, dams and even swimming pools if necessary ! The helicopters use the Monsoon buckets under them, except the Amphibious Canadairs which fly along the water with a scoop which is lowered and water is forced into the onboard tank. The Skycrane has two methods of gathering water, the sea snorkel which is lowered and then we fly about 4 meters above the water at approximately 80km/hr with the snorkel in the sea and the water is forced into the tank, and secondly the hover snorkel which has a pump in the bottom part, the helicopter then needs to hover (stationary) for 30 seconds as 10 tonnes of water is pumped into the helicopter.
The water in the Monsoon buckets and the Canadairs is released all at once in the space of 3 to 10 seconds. The Skycrane can regulate the drop to between 1.5 and 30 seconds (10 tonnes of water!)’’
Report by Liz Osborn, Zakynthos Informer team.