US Army, April 14, 2015 - WEDGEFIELD, SC by Sgt Brad Mincey - As a man-made fire burns through the forest, threatening property and lives, the South Carolina National Guard is called in to assist civilian firefighters in extinguishing the blaze.
This is the scenario the Soldiers and aviators of the 2-151st Security and Support Aviation Battalion faced at Manchester State Forest here during a training exercise April 10, 2015.
“We’re working with the forestry commission and training together to put out forest fires,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 David Reynolds, Battalion standardization pilot for the 2-151st SSABN.
“We have a capability that does not exist in most civilian communities. And when it is brought to bear against a fire, we make a difference.”
That capability is the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, which provides a variety of options to the Guard and becomes a huge asset during civilian emergencies.
“The Black Hawk is a very versatile machine,” said Reynolds. “With it, we can fight forest fires, transport personnel, conduct hoist missions, air assaults and sling loads. It is a stable, capable platform in just about any weather that South Carolina can throw at it.”
The joint training exercise was an opportunity for Soldiers and firefighters from the S.C. Forestry Commission to train together. The primary goal of the exercise was to increase the readiness of both air and ground crews while testing a variety of lines of communication between the Soldiers in the air and the firemen on the ground.
“This training exercise gives us the opportunity to understand the capabilities of the South Carolina National Guard and what they can provide,” said Darryl Jones, South Carolina Forestry Commission Fire Chief. “They are a valuable asset in fighting fires and we can’t get that support from anywhere else right now.”
The firefighters on the ground near the fires called in the Guardsmen, who then used the Black Hawk helicopter to drop water from a Bambi Bucket onto the small forest fire. The Bambi Bucket, a large, collapsible bucket attached to a helicopter or other aircraft, allows the Black Hawk to accurately drop water on a target and put out large or small fires quickly and effectively.
When many people think of forest fires in the U.S., their first thoughts are of California or the west coast, because those fires are often very large and burn huge amounts of land at one time. But the southeast actually has about the same amount of forest fires as the west coast.
“According to a recent report, 51 percent of the fires in the U.S., and most of the homes destroyed by fire, are destroyed in the southeast,” said Reynolds.
South Carolina alone has nearly 4,000 fires a year that burn about 20,000 acres and consumes about 50 homes. By working together as often as they do, when civilian authorities call in the Guard, they are quickly able to serve the citizens of South Carolina and resolve any problems that arise from hurricanes, to snow storms to forest fires.
Although the Guard continually works with local and state authorities, problems and issues occasionally arise. But having these training exercises works out most of the problems before they become a concern during a real emergency.
“Water didn’t drop exactly where we needed it a few times, but that is what we are training for,” said Jones. “After this training, everyone is more familiar with each other and we understand what we need during a real fire.”