Image: US Marines manned a MV-22 Osprey flying from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar to assist in the joint firefighting exercise (Lance Cpl. Asia J. Sorenson / US Marines)
Aviation and ground units from Camp Pendleton, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, Navy Region Southwest, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, and the San Diego Sheriff’s Department participated in an aerial firefighting exercise at Las Pulgas Lake in California recently. The exercise was the eighth iteration of its kind and showcased the employment of trained and certified military and civilian personnel using aircraft to combat wildland fires in the region, said the US Marine Corps.
“This annual event is an opportunity for CAL FIRE to come out and participate with the military because we rely on them during major wildland fires,” said Kendal Bortisser, public information officer with CAL FIRE. “When all private resources are committed, we can c-oordinate with them to conduct water drops and combat wildland fires.”
The training involved the use of a UH-1Y Huey, a CH-53 Super Stallion and an MV-22 Osprey. Each aircraft was equipped with a water bucket capable of carrying up to 420 pounds (190 kg) of water.
“These exercises give us the opportunity to train together so that when disaster strikes, we’re all on the same page with the same frequencies and everybody understands their roles and responsibilities despite using different assets,” added Bortisser.
“It’s a demonstration of the partnerships we’ve developed between the Marines and the Navy as a team in support of CAL FIRE,” said Lt Col Austin Miller, air co-ordination officer with Marine Corps Installations – West. “The exercise increases the interoperability between the different organisations and it creates a safer environment for us to work together in the event of an actual fire.”
One of the main teaching points in the exercise is communication: the process of combatting the fires using mutual aid assets requires the personnel involved to speak the same language, said Lt Cmdr Renee May, naval aviator at the exercise. John Francois, aviation chief, CAL FIRE San Diego, added: “Communication is the most important thing, and over the years the communications between the military and our assets have immensely improved. Now we have military co-ordinators who train to co-ordinate with military assets through proper communication. We’ve become much more cohesive and effective.”
The event is an annual training requirement that certifies Marine and Navy pilots for aerial firefighting operations and is intended to increase the interoperability between the agencies and services involved.
“It’s important to be proficient in our firefighting capabilities so that in the event of a fire, we’ll be able to give back to the community that gives to us,” said Petty Officer Berk Tarleton, a naval air crewman at the exercise. “It’s especially important for the families that support us back home while we’re serving our country.”