Hover and Heli-winching

July 19, 2009 by
Filed under: Fire 
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Helicopter safe usage in firefighting situations

Helicopters are an extremely valuable resource for firefighting within remote areas of bushland. We regularly train to use helicopters safely, for without safe use helicopters can be very unforgiving. We trained this week with “Park Air 3” one of the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) Squirrel helicopters. What an excellent machine!

Park Air 3

Park Air 3, National Parks and Wildlife Service NSW Squirrel helicopter

Training using these helicopters involves 3 main courses for the general remote NPWS firefighter; Work safely around Aircraft (PUAFIR209A), Undertake Hover exit (PUAFIR210A) and Undertake winch operations (PUAFIR211A), which are all Nationally Accredited competencies.

Our instructors, Dave Link (pilot) and Dave Clifford (crewman) gave us an excellent day of refresher training where we did heaps of safety drills, hover entries and exits and winching.

The rundown

Apart from the general safety briefing and course content in a classroom type setting, the aircraft becomes the classroom and we have a through look through all the safety features, what we can and cannot touch. There are heaps of gauges in these things!

The training crew

The trainees getting a briefing

Dave and the Chopper

Dave Clifford giving us a rundown of the safety features of the NPWS Squirrel

Hover Entry and Exit

This is a really tricky operation as the helicopter is hovering just off the ground and we have to get into and out of the helicopter safely. It takes enormous concentration on behalf of the pilot and we need to be extremely careful as it is quite a dangerous operation to perform.

Hover1

Performing a Hover Entry and Exit

As you can see when undertaking a Hover Entry and Exit, the helicopter is flying just off the ground, high enough so that we can step onto the skids and into the cabin. In this photo, Dave Clifford is instructing, Dave Link is the pilot and there is already one firefighter in the rear of the aircraft.

Hover4

Three in, one to go.

Hover entry and exits are performed when the helicopter cannot land safely which could be due to very uneven or sloping ground, such as rocky hillsides in Wollemi National Park. Hover exits have been used when personnel are dropped off onto narrow wharves over waterm, and the procedure although risky is quite safe if performed correctly.

Winching

This is a real hoot, but an essential skill to master! Winching is when you are lifted (winched) into a helicopter by a metal cable. The training is conducted with a relatively short winch, about 20 of 30 feet, but winching a long winch can be 150feet if you are being winched into or out of a gully that has very tall trees.

Just about to be winched up

NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service firefighting personnel just about to be winched into the squirrel helicopter during winch training and refresher

One of the most essential components of both the winching and hover entry and exit is teamwork. Working as a team reduces the risk of injury, speeds up the operation, thus saving time and money.

Half way up

NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service firefighting personnel being winched into the squirrel helicopter during winch training and refresher

Notice that when being winched, your firepack is also winched with you. You firepack contains all your “remote” gear such as first aid kit, food, water, clothing, anything you need according to the task at hand. It could also contain items such as chains and fuel and oil for a chainsaw.

Gear such as chainsaws, rakehoes, brush  hooks can also be winched.

At the skids

NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service firefighting personnel being winched into the squirrel helicopter during winch training and refresher. Firefighter is standing on the skids of the helicopter, being prepared by the crewman to go into the cabin.

Into the cabin

NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service firefighting personnel being winched into the squirrel helicopter during winch training and refresher. Firefighter has just been assisted into the cabin by Marty Woulfe the crewman.

Once inside the cabin, the firefighter moves slowly and deliberately across the cabin, into the seat and another 3 firefighters can be winched in also.

Thumbs up

NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service firefighting personnel being winched into the squirrel helicopter during winch training and refresher. Firefighter is standing on the skids of the helicopter, giving the thumbs up, indicating all is OK to be lowered to the ground.

A watchful eye

Helicopter crewman Marty Woulfe keeping a watchful eye on a firefighter being lowered by a winch during helicopter winching training and refresher. Marty is also undertaking refresher training under the watchfu eye of Dave Clifford in the rear cabin and Dave Finch the pilot.

It is important to wear a helmet and have eye and hearing protection when working around and with helicopters. But  this safety gear is not a fashion statement.

Training Looks

All the safety gear required for NSW National Parks and Wildlfe Service personnel undertaking helicopter winching, protective clothing, hearing and eye protection. Good look!

Training is great with your mates, good for teamwork! NPWS firefighters are not usually full-time firefighters. They could be planners such as Belinda Kenny, or Animal and Weed pest specialists such as Richard Ali and firefighting and helicopters is an integral part of our work.

Belinda and Doug

Belinda Kenny and Doug Beckers at the winching day

Doug and Richard

Doug Beckers and Richard Ali at the winching refresher training course

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