Helicopter Coordinator

HLCO decorative banner: photos depicting HLCO position. HLCO Position Description: The Helicopter Coordinator (HLCO) reports to the Air Tactical Group Supervisor (ATGS) and is responsible for coordinating tactical or logistical helicopter mission(s) at the incident.

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HLCO Incident Position Description

NOTE: This Incident Position Description (IPD) is under development. Learn more about IPDs and other NWCG improvement efforts on our Systems Improvement Page. Please contribute to this effort by providing feedback via the Comment button on this page.

The Helicopter Coordinator (HLCO) coordinates helicopter mission(s) and incident airspace, manages incident air traffic, and is the link between ground personnel and incident aircraft. The HLCO is an airborne firefighter who coordinates, assigns, and evaluates the use of aerial resources in support of incident objectives. The HLCO reports to an Air Operations Branch Director (AOBD), Air Tactical Group Supervisor (ATGS), or Operations Section Chief (OSC) on Type 1, 2, or 3 incidents. The HLCO works in the Air Operations functional area.
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Prepare and Mobilize

  • Ensure individual readiness.
  • Obtain and assemble information and materials needed for assignment.
  • Gather critical information pertinent to the assignment.
  • Travel to and check in at assignment.
  • Check in at assigned base of operations and with supervisor.
  • Obtain briefing from previous shift/assignment position as necessary.

Build The Team

  • Conduct self in a professional manner.
  • Establish and communicate chain of command, reporting procedures, risk management processes, radio frequency management, and aviation operational strategy.
  • Attend incident briefings if possible and obtain daily Incident Action Plan (IAP) or relevant plans and incident maps for the duration of incident.
  • Establish a common operating picture with supervisors and subordinates.
  • Establish cohesiveness among assigned resources.

Lead, Supervise, Direct

  • Model leadership values and principles. Provide positive influence. Emphasize teamwork.
  • Identify, analyze, and use relevant situational information to make informed decisions and take appropriate actions.
  • Adjust actions based on changing information and evolving situation awareness. Develop and implement contingency plans. Communicate changing conditions to assigned resources and supervisor.
  • Monitor performance and provide immediate and regular feedback to assigned personnel.

Perform Helicopter Coordinator-Specific Duties

  • Ensure that HLCO aircraft meet requirements in the NWCG Standards for Aerial Supervision, PMS 505, and the pilot is qualified to perform the air tactical mission per agency standards.
  • Ensure aircraft meets the mission parameters.
  • Plot coordinates on topographic maps, Sectional/World Aeronautical Charts (WACS), GPS, tablet, and other tools to navigate on incident.
  • Identify and map incident topography and landmarks in operating area to navigate on incident.
  • Ensure pilot and aerial supervisor pre-flight and pre-takeoff responsibilities are completed as outlined in the NWCG Standards for Aerial Supervision, PMS 505.
  • Complete after-takeoff duties and en route procedures. Adhere to guidelines in the NWCG Standards for Aerial Supervision, PMS 505.
  • Obtain briefing from the ATGS.
  • Coordinate geographical areas for helicopter operations with ATGS and make assignments.
  • Establish helicopter priorities to meet incident tactical objectives.
  • Obtain mission briefings for initial and extended attack incidents. Record the information on an aircraft dispatch form and compile an appropriate cockpit kit of pertinent documents.
  • Provide initial attack aerial size up information for dispatch and coordinate with ground and management personnel. 
  • Coordinate with ground personnel during extended attack/Incident Management Team (IMT) incidents and provide the following:
    • Fire information and size up for tactical planning.
    • Evaluation of values at risk.
    • Recommended strategies, tactics, and resources needed.
    • Information to ground crews, and seek information on type of fuels and availability.
    • Procedures for ordering tactical aerial resources.
    • Safety oversight to ground resources.
  • Evaluate the airspace surrounding the incident to identify airspace conflicts or impacts to air operations, such as military operating areas (MOA), military training routes (MTR), special-use airspace (SUA), visual flight rules (VFR) airways, or airports.
  • Coordinate with AOBD or host agency unit aviation officer to identify retardant and foam use restriction areas.
  • Report known misapplications of wildland fire chemicals near avoidance areas to AOBD or adhere to local reporting procedures.
  • Follow the entry procedures listed in the NWCG Standards for Aerial Supervision, PMS 505, when entering fire traffic area (FTA) and incident airspace.
  • Conduct standard briefings to all aircraft pilots for the following situations: initial briefing, tactical briefing, describing work location, guiding aircraft to targets, transition briefing, departure briefing, and emergency briefing. Adhere to the Standard Briefing Sequence in the NWCG Standards for Aerial Supervision, PMS 505.
  • Determine ground elevation and/or mission flight altitudes to establish FTA altitudes for incoming aircraft including helicopters, airtankers, lead planes, Aerial Supervision Modules (ASM), smokejumpers, relief aerial supervision, and media, if not previously determined.
  • Coordinate fixed-wing water scooper operations with helicopter operations.
  • Receive radio contact with inbound aircraft and grant permission to enter FTA.
  • Assign air resources according to strategy, tactics, and mission priorities.
  • Coordinate with ATGS in establishing locations and takeoff and landing patterns for helibases and helispots.
  • Approve takeoff clearance and coordinate flight for unmanned aircraft system (UAS) operations. Ensure UAS follow assigned departure route and altitude.
  • Coordinate fixed-wing, helicopter, and mixed air traffic using pilot, aerial supervision/air traffic control (ATC), and General Air Traffic Coordination Principles.
  • Coordinate helicopter air traffic while maintaining aircraft separation utilizing the following methods in the NWCG Standards for Aerial Supervision, PMS 505:
    • Vertical separation
    • Horizontal separation
    • Virtual fences
    • Helicopter routes
    • Helicopter daisy chains
    • Helicopter recon flights
    • Incident entry and exit corridors
    • Initial points, checkpoints, holding areas
    • Sequencing and interval dispatching
    • Intersecting routes
    • Non-standard patterns
  • Manage helicopter air tactics to provide continuity.
  • Perform post-mission procedures upon returning to base.
  • Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR)
    • Provide clearance for all assigned/ordered aircraft into the incident TFR.
    • Coordinate with incident AOBD to recommend termination of an existing TFR and/or when the dimensions of the TFR should be changed.
  • Frequency Management
    • Monitor all assigned air-to-air frequencies and radio traffic, and maintain communications with assigned and en route incident aircraft.
    • Recognize and request different frequencies through dispatch or the IMT Communications Unit Leader (COML) when multiple incidents in relative proximity are sharing the same tactical frequencies.
    • Receive radio contact with inbound aircraft and grant permission to enter incident airspace.

Communicate and Coordinate

  • Utilize appropriate en route communications using common terminology and brevity with dispatch, ground resources, and other aircraft.
  • Vocalize the Prior to FTA entry portion of the Mission Checklist with pilot.
  • Coordinate with incident ground personnel, dispatch, and other aerial supervision resources to ensure continuity of aerial supervision before leaving the incident.
  • Ensure priorities and tactics are communicated and understood throughout involved functional areas.
  • Ensure clear understanding of expectations and timely communication within and across Incident Command System (ICS) functional areas and chain of command.
  • Establish communications and exchange necessary briefings/information with the following:
    • Support resources
    • Adjacent resources
    • Supervisor
    • Other ICS functional areas
  • Proactively communicate current and expected fire and weather conditions based upon continuous observations of the area.
  • Coordinate with dispatch in a timely manner regarding appropriate information: ordering, assignment, and release of incident aircraft in accordance with the needs of fire management and incident command personnel.
  • Coordinate with incident ground personnel to identify, plan, and implement logistical missions.
  • Follow procedures in the NWCG Standards for Aerial Supervision, PMS 505, when incident airspace conflicts and intrusions occur.
  • Notify dispatch center and other incident aircraft of military aircraft en route to, near, or within the operations area.
  • Provide candid feedback regarding the effectiveness of aviation operations toward meeting incident objectives.
  • Conduct debriefings with appropriate supervisor, personnel, and pilots (e.g., OSC/AOBD and helibase personnel) and recommend any necessary corrective actions regarding airspace, documenting issues in a SAFECOM as needed.
  • Conduct and/or participate in functional area briefings and After Action Reviews (AAR).

Manage Risk

  • Provide for the safety and welfare of assigned resources.
  • Adhere to required personal protective equipment (PPE) as stated in the NWCG Standards for Aerial Supervision, PMS 505.
  • Conduct mission safety briefing for pilot.
  • Apply the Risk Management Process as stated in the Incident Response Pocket Guide (IRPG, PMS 461:
    • Identify Hazards
    • Assess Hazards
    • Develop Controls and Make Risk Decisions
    • Implement Controls
    • Supervise and Evaluate
  • Adhere to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and agency aviation regulations.
  • Plan for medical emergencies. Ensure that assigned resources are prepared to execute the Medical Plan (ICS 206 WF). Manage the medical emergency based on procedures stated in the IAP, Medical Incident Report, or other relevant guidelines.
  • Monitor for hazardous flight conditions and shut down aviation operations when necessary.
  • Manage HLCO/ATGS relief staffing using relief guidelines addressing fatigue, effectiveness, and safety.
  • Manage flight emergencies according to procedures in the NWCG Standards for Aerial Supervision, PMS 505.
  • Manage missing aircraft/aircraft mishap situation according to procedures in the NWCG Standards for Aerial Supervision, PMS 505.
  • Identify and appropriately act on hazardous situations to incident aircraft.
  • Submit accident/incident reports with pertinent forms (SAFECOM, SAFENET, agency-specific forms) through established chain of command.


  • Ensure individual and pilot familiarity with the basic terms of the procurement agreement/contract and payment documents.
  • Complete appropriate payment documents daily.
  • Compile daily statistics and provide to appropriate supervisor.
  • Complete, authorize, ensure timeliness of, and route as required:


  • During transfer of command:
    • Ensure continuity of operations.
    • Exchange critical safety information.
    • Communicate transfer of authority through established chain of command.
  • Plan for demobilization. Brief assigned resources on demobilization procedures and responsibilities. Ensure incident and agency demobilization procedures are followed.
  • Anticipate demobilization, identify excess resources, coordinate with operations to prepare demobilization schedule, and communicate with supervisor.
  • Upon demobilization, report status to home unit including reassignment or estimated time of arrival (ETA) to home unit.


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