Enhancing Colorado’s fire-fighting capabilities

David Toelle-Aerial Firefighting Specialist with the Colorado Center of Excellence (COE) for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting, based at Rifle- Garfield County Airport in Colorado, talks to Alan Warnes about the studies his agency is carrying out.

The CoE was created in 2014. The CoE is an innovative, science and data-focused entity that researches and evaluates existing and new technologies that support sustainable and effective aerial firefighting.

Supporting local agencies

The Division of Fire Prevention and Control is there to support local agencies when wildland fires exceed their local capabilities and we have aerial firefighting assets capable of performing a variety of wildland firefighting missions. Our aircraft provide some benefit to other states too.

We provide two type 2 helicopters and two SEATS to fight the fires through exclusive use contracts, along with aircraft from federal agencies like the US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and National Park Service. We also have two Multi-Mission fixed wing Aircraft. These aircraft perform a number of important missions to support ground and aerial firefighting as well as other all-hazards missions.

Multi Mission Aircraft technologies

We are working on several key projects. We support the development of technologies on our PC-12 Multi Mission Aircraft programme. They are owned by the State of Colorado -Department of Public Safety but they are contractor operated by Sierra Nevada Corporation and Bode Aviation.  Bode Aviation provides the pilots and the maintenance on our multi-mission aircraft which are available 24/7.

The multi-mission aircraft’s primary role is to detect and report the fires early to keep fires small and to ensure we are successful with initial attack. They also provide intelligence on fire behaviour and perimeter growth, control line monitoring, and provide over watch to firefighters on the ground. These aircraft and crews work diligently to keep fire managers informed with near real-time data.

Each airplane is equipped with the L3 Wescam MX-15HDi sensor in a retractable turret. We operate three cameras with mid-wave infrared (MWIR) and electro optical capabilities and we do on-board data and image processing.

We are also working on some technologies that will allow the information that we collect, to be distributed from the aircraft into the hands of the operators on the ground quicker, to create a common operating picture as well as tools for improved situational awareness.

Water Enhancer studies

The COE in the second year of a water enhancer study in Colorado. Two of the three companies, we are currently evaluating; FireIce and BlazeTamer are at the exhibition here this week.

BlazeTamer 380 is being studied at the Rifle SEAT (Single Engine Air Tanker) Base; the FireIce 561 at Fort Collins SEAT Base and Thermo Gel 200L at the Craig SEAT Base.

We are looking at how visible they are from the air, how they affect the fire behaviour and how long they last.  They are suppressants intended to be used for direct attack, not like the retardant which we use more for indirect attack.  We have been collaborating with Australia, Canada and a number of states on this project. Our study may continue beyond 2018 and we may evaluate additional products in future years.

UAVs and night ops

The CoE is testing and evaluating UAVs that are less expensive yet efficient and cost effective for use in wildland firefighting and other public safety applications in Colorado. We have been working closely with leaders in the UAS industry and experts in using this technology in public use to develop future testing and evaluations.

Another study we are conducting is on night aerial firefighting operations and we just published our interim report in January.  It is available on on our web site for anyone who wishes to read it.

We are excited about Coulson Aviation’s night operations trials taking place now in Australia. We hope to be able to learn more from their efforts and incorporate that in our future research work which could potentially enhance Colorado’s fire-fighting capabilities in the future.

Alan Warnes