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Dumping 560 gallon buckets of water in the wind, SD Wildland Fire training

The choppers avoid power lines, residential areas, roadways and more when they’re assisting a fire. That’s in case of potential spillage or a malfunction.
The Early evening news on KOTA Territory TV
Published: May. 20, 2022 at 6:09 PM CDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA) - South Dakota Wildland Fire teamed up with the National Guard for a federally mandated ground and aviation recertification at Angostura Reservoir.

The training ensures that when a fire breaks out that requires air support, those pilots are ready to fly and ground crews are ready to effectively communicate.

Anthony Pritzka, Aviation Officer for South Dakota Wildland Fire, says four birds split into two teams, dipping into helliwells, which are temporary reserves used when water is scarce. “The more you do it, the better you become at it. It’s just like tying your shoes. The more times you tie your shoes, the better you get.”

That is, if tying your shoe strings is comparable to a slightly longer string with a 560 gallon bucket attached to it, dangling from an aircraft with a small target while mother nature is throwing everything she’s got at you. Pritzka describes it as a “real life scenario, we have a lot of winds with our fires.”

They dip into the reservoir or helliwell, and then they’re off. Making their way over to one of two sites marked with orange tape to resemble a fire. In this case, wind can actually be handy. Pritzka says that’s because, “it disperses the water.”

Ground crews lay in wait and monitor the area, who are getting certified in their communication abilities. “They get on the radio,” Pritzka describes, “tell the helicopters that their drops are good, or if they come up a little short.” Which is, “a minimum of 500 gallons where they’re dropping.”

The choppers avoid power lines, residential areas, roadways and more when they’re assisting a fire in case of potential spillage or a malfunction.

Pritzka says, “all our training just provides better continuity of working together.”

Plus, this is an exercise where ground and aviation crews look forward to working together, because “who doesn’t like seeing helicopters and planes?” Pritzska laughs.

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