It took 40 gallons of fuel to fly from Los Gatos to Milpitas, but CalFire's Alma Helitack had an important mission.
The crew of the Alma Helitack Copter 106 met with the Spring Valley Volunteer Fire Department on Wednesday to demonstrate its helicopter-delivered rescue capabilities.
While fire districts are responsible for life and property protection, CalFire, at the-state level, is financially responsible for wildland fire suppression in the unincorporated areas, said Battallion Chief Jim Crawford of the Santa Clara Unit.
Firefighters from , who are responsible for the foothills above Milpitas and San Jose, are often first on the scene for emergencies, because they work in shifts covering the area. They are using ground crews.
"We work together to put the fire out," said Crawford.
While an emergency in the main area of would bring out the Milpitas Fire Department, the outlying areas are a separate jurisdiction.
From the parking lot, SVVFD Chief Mike Hacke pointed to a windsock at the top of the ridge used by hang gliders. CalFire's jurisdiction is on the other side of the ridge, he said.
Hard-to-reach places is where the helitack comes in. Only one of nine helitacks in the state, Copter 106 is a Super Huey outfitted with a fixed tank that can siphon water from a pond and transport it to the scene of the fire—a new-school version of the bucket.
Hacke remembers back when a fire helicopter using a bucket dropped water—along with fish and rocks—onto the fire. The siphon has a screen to filter things like that out of the water.
Alma Helitack is also used to drop off a crew of six seasonal firefighters, particularly in areas without roads that would make it difficult for fire trucks on the ground to access. Since 1997, CalFire has trained crews to conduct short hauls during daylight hours and move patients to safety or rescue firefighters without necessarily having them board the helicopter.
"If [the accident] is here in the mountains and it's in heavy brush, really hard for an ambulance to get it we can do a short haul," said Glenn Pullen, CalFire Copter 106 crew member, during the training. "We take them a short distance and land them so they can get better medical. So the [medical] helicopter, ambulance can get to them a little easier."
To bring the equipment meant flying the helicopter from the to , where Spring Valley volunteer firefighters train twice a month. A support engine accompanies the Helitack with fuel supplies as well as an array of equipment.
A Stokes litter basket, a type of stretcher, is used to transport patients in search-and-rescue missions. A Bauman Screamer Suit could be used to hook an individual to a helicopter without a full-body harness. There are straps, ropes, harnesses. The system is designed to carry up to 600 pounds.