AERIAL ATTACK: The Queensland Fire and Rescue Service show the capabilities of its air attack and water bomber choppers.
AERIAL ATTACK: The Queensland Fire and Rescue Service show the capabilities of its air attack and water bomber choppers. Contributed

Three specialist helicopters on standby for firefighting season

FIREFIGHTERS will have no shortage of help from above when the bushfire season hits south-east Queensland.

Three specialist firefighting choppers will remain on standby, should efforts from the ground prove insufficient to keep a blaze at bay.

One of two massive Bell 214B water bombing aircraft travelled to the Ripley Valley Rural Fire Brigade headquarters on Friday - along with the smaller, more nimble Bell 206 air attack chopper - as 20 firefighters qualified in air operations took a refresher course as part of their preparations for the bushfire season.

McDermott Aviation has just entered the second year of a three-year contract with the State Government to supply the emergency aircraft.

Pilot Jason Box said the Bell 214B choppers were the most powerful single-engine helicopters in the world, with a top-speed of about 140 knots.

"Each one is equipped with a snorkel, which the pilot releases as the chopper comes towards the dip," he said.

"From there, it takes only 40 seconds to fill the 2700-litre tank."

That huge amount of water only takes about 40 knots off the Bell 214B's top speed, as it rushes back to douse the flames.

Guiding the big bombers on their way is the Bell 206 - soon to be replaced by the AS355.

These aircraft are flown under the direction of an air attack supervisor, who co-ordinates and advises the exact location of water drops for maximum effect.

Rural Fire Service Queensland Assistant Commissioner Neil Gallant said a fourth helicopter could also be called upon year round to provide additional firefighting and rescue capability.

"These three aircraft will have an initial response area of 120 kilometres from Archerfield, and will be available, from August to November," he said.

"In addition to our contract with McDermott Aviation, QFES also has access to over 90 aircraft across the state, which are available on a call when needed basis, throughout the fire season."

Preparations for the fire season are well under way, with crews across Queensland undertaking hazard reduction burns as part of Operation Cool Burn.

"Our Air Operations Unit has also overseen a variety of aerial firefighting training workshops for rural and urban firefighters across Queensland in order to tackle the season head-on," Mr Gallant said.



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