National Wildfire Coordinating Group

2014 WOR Day 5: Honoring Those That Have Been Lost in Aviation Accidents

Ribbon symbol for WOR next to Wildland Fire Lessons Learned logo.Week of Remembrance June 30-July 6, 2014

Almost all firefighters will interact with aircraft on fires…bucket drops, blivets, sling loads of supplies, crew shuttles, reconnaissance, medevac, retardant drops from SEATs and tankers, and air attack. Due to its heavy use for fire logistics and operations, aviation remains one of the highest risk activities that a firefighter will be exposed to. Have we improved? Yes. Are aircraft still crashing? Yes. Are we still killing pilots and firefighters? Yes. Can we do something about it? YES!

Get the right training and maintain currency: Beyond the S-classes and fire aviation qualifications, there are many A-classes offered by IAT (Interagency Aviation Training) that may or may not be required (depends on your agency) and cover content that can be very helpful to someone trying to gain a better understanding of aviation. There are classes on Airspace, Aircraft Radio Use, Automated Flight Following, Water Ditching and much more! Some are taught in the classroom, some by webinar, and some online. Check it out!

Be as informed as possible: Did you know that a recent Accident Prevention Bulletin on rotor strikes states the USFS and DOI had over 60 rotor strikes reported in the past 10 years with 7 fatalities from 4 separate accidents? If you work with helicopters wouldn’t you be interested in why this was happening and how to prevent it? This Office of Aviation Services (OAS) webpage has a long list of safety-related bulletins. You can also query SAFECOM to see what is being reported in your area, type of aircraft or mission or an incident that you are going to. Your IRPG’s blue pages can be very helpful also.

Learn from the Past: There are many aviation lessons that have been learned from “blood and bent metal” that can help us work with aviation more safely. You can learn about DOI and USFS accidents and near misses from annual accident reviews.

Understand the capabilities and limitations of each air resource: For example…should you consider Air Attack an aerial lookout? Why do you want to clear firefighters off the line for a retardant drop? What is the best way to describe a target to an aerial resource? Find out these answers and a lot more with this WFSTAR video from the 2009 fire refresher.

Limit exposure: Limit the amount of time that a helicopter has to hover and the amount of time you are in, under and around them. This WFSTAR video from the 2010 fire refresher talks in depth about how to limit your exposure and reduce the risk of working with and around aircraft on fires. Limiting exposure also means asking yourself “is this flight necessary?” and “is there a better way to do it?”

Communicate: Ground crews must assess hazards at the helispot/drop zone and communicate potential hazards to the flight crew/pilot. It is easy to trust the people that work around aviation all the time, but trust your gut feeling also. If it looks wrong or feels wrong it might very well BE wrong. Say something! “Communicate” also means that if you don’t know, ask.

Don’t settle for “well we’ve always done it this way.” For example…just this year, the way some SEATs (single engine air tankers) track flight time was changed. Before, pilots would call roll time which violated sterile cock pit. Now flight time is measured block to block.


Discussion Question: What would YOU add to this list? Tell us on Facebook.

Week of Remembrance
Page Last Modified / Reviewed: 
Aug 2023

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