Guest Opinion: Governor should look at modified airliners for fighting fires

Daniel Gellert shares ideas on using aircraft to fight fires.

  • Wednesday, July 15, 2015 3:23pm
  • Opinion

The U.S. spends most if not all funds available for forest management on fighting forest fires. This does not leave money for forest management, which adds to the problem and magnifies forest fire damages.

Jurisdictions through out the world have 24/7 fire fighting departments. Why? To take timely action to put out the fire at the time of inception. Response time is critical. Unfortunately we do not do this with forest fires.

What is involved in this matter rests with the Western state governors of Washington, California, Utah, Arizona, Oregon, Alaska, Idaho, Montana and so forth, in association with the federal government agencies.

There are expert debates concerning the use of heavy aircraft such as the B-747 and the smaller aircraft such as the C-130. There was a B-747 used for fire fighting so we do have some information as to this aircraft. The debate also identifies that a heavy aircraft such as the B-747 can only fly out of some airports with longer runways, while other such as the C-130 can use airports closer to the fires. With the capability of the B-747-400 to stay in flight is so long a period, that this does not detract from it unusual capability to stay over a fire till extinguished.

The governor should consider the following:

1. That the possibility for loss of lives in future forest fires is a distinct possibility.

2. That great loss of personal property for our citizens also is a distinct possibility.

3. That loss of our forests and other state resources is going to happen in the future.

First and foremost, the Western state governors should consider and work on finding reasonable solutions to these serious forest fire problems.

I do believe that we can obtain B-747 airliners free of charge, with spare parts and a simulator by allowing the airline donating these aircraft to take a tax write-off. (There is no market for these airliners.)

The cost will be in modifying (“tankering”) these aircraft to the fire-fighting mode. But this is a capital investment — in that the life expectancy can be estimated to be over 30 years, so amortization reduces this cost to a negligible amount.

The fire-fighting variable cost of this venture can be shared by the U.S. government and the states. For instance, the U.S. pays for the fuel, the states for the water and retardant, while the National Guard or AF Reserves pilots man these B-747 planes.

These B-747 airliners have great ground proximity warning equipment already that can be modified for fire fighting operations — in that — safety of these fire-fighting flights can be greatly increased.

Let me assure you that nothing will happen to control these wild fires without the governors taking an active role.

Our governor spent time in Congress and certainly is aware of the Washington, D.C., scene of inaction. There are bigger fish to fry in Washington, D.C., and nothing is left for the serious consideration of forest fires.

There is a saying: “Never open your mouth unless you are willing to back it up!”

I don’t mind being a “point man” in this effort for free to get this job done. I do believe this is the most important issue facing our state and country. These fires add tremendous amounts of gases to an already warming climate. This is a needless consequence!

The sole issue in attempting to succeed with a new approach to try to eliminate the forest fire scourge is the importance that the governors of the Western states demonstrate in protecting their citizens, property and state assets.

This presentation is a no brainer. No funds are required by the state of Washington or anyone else to examine and gain a cooperative evaluation of using the same fire-fighting methodology we have developed and used for centuries throughout the world, in that, attack fires instantly in the inception with sufficient assets to “drench and quench” and to put them out.

Our current methodology of allowing a fire to mature and explode in our forest certainly deserves to be evaluated and new more reasonable and scientific approach developed — and we MUST consider the methods of 24/7 fire stations we use in our cities — as we have learned to do this over many centuries.

Sequim resident Dan Gellert is a former airline pilot, air traffic controller, aviation security expert and recipient of the FAA’s highest recognition, the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, for his 50-plus years of an accident and violation-free career. He has spent years seeking to improve aviation safety and security, pushing for using dogs specially trained in sniffing out explosives, developing alternate airport runway configurations and different methods of wilderness firefighting with airplanes.

Editor’s note: Gellert originally sent this proposal to Mary B. Verner, Deputy Supervisor of Resource Protection & Administration for the Office of the Commissioner of Public Lands.

 

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