After five and a half years of operational activity in the Israeli Air Force (IAF), the Aerial Firefighting Unit is to begin operating under the country’s Aerial Police Unit.
“Closing a squadron or unit in the IAF is a sad and unusual event, so it is definitely bittersweet,” commented Lt Col Eran, former commander of the unit. “We aren't closing the unit. We established and developed it and we are now transferring the unit in prime shape to the responsibility of those who will take it to new heights.”
Since its creation, the unit has completed 12,000 firefighting sorties over 5,800 flight hours, delivering 30 million litres of foam and fire retardant. It was set up following the Mount Carmel fire, when the area was engulfed by flames for four days in the largest forest fire Israel has ever known, stated the IAF. The firefighting efforts and international support brought about the understanding that Israel must establish a response to the operational need for an aerial firefighting force, an understanding which preceded the establishment of the unit in 2011.
“From the beginning, it was clear that the IAF, thanks to its abilities and experience in establishment of units and squadrons, would establish the unit,” said Lt Col Eran. “We always knew that when the day would come, that we would be able to offer a full response to Israel’s aerial firefighting needs, the unit would be transferred to the responsibility of the Ministry of Public Security. And the day has come.”
During the past two years, the Aerial Policing Unit has acquired new helicopters that besides policing mission will have aerial firefighting abilities. The plan is that the aerial firefighting division’s first response will be the Air Tractor planes, while the helicopters will provide support for smaller fires, said the IAF.
The Air Force noted that the unit’s transfer is accompanied by a personal story, which connects between its three leaders: Lt Col Eran, the exiting commander of the IAF's Firefighting Unit, Chief Superintendent Tomer, commander of the Police Aerial Firefighting Unit, and Maj. (Res') Tomer, Chim-Nir Aviation’s head firefighting pilot, all stood on the parade ground at Hazerim Air Force Base and received their flight wings together in July 1996. “Exactly 20 years later, here we all are,” said Lt Col Eran. “A trio, in green, orange and blue flight suits, that leads the aerial firefighting unit. The best kind of closure at the best time.”