Seasonal Wildfire Training Takes Firefighters Up In The Air - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Seasonal Wildfire Training Takes Firefighters Up In The Air

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Wild land fire crews were in Cle Elum today to do their seasonal Helitack training as the region gets into fire season. Wild land fire crews were in Cle Elum today to do their seasonal Helitack training as the region gets into fire season.
CLE ELUM, WA - Fire crews with the Department of Natural Resources are already predicting a bad fire season, so brushing up on firefighting skills is the main priority right now.

When the call comes in it is all hands on deck.

"We have our firefighters, our field support drivers, as well as their pilots," said helicopter manager trainee Jesse Boyd.

But before they can fight the flames, crews need to brush up on their skills on the ground and in the air to make sure they can do the most efficient job possible.

"If we didn't know what we were doing when we got out there, if we hadn't practiced scenarios.  We need the competency when you're working around aircraft and aviation.  It is important that folks know what they are doing and they know what they are getting into and have trained and minimized that risk,” Boyd said.

This training happens every season where pilots practiced fighting a seven-acre fire from the air.

"It gives us an opportunity from the get-go to be able to get eyes on it from the air, so we can size it up really well, we can find a lot of dangers and hazards the crew might encounter, we can also get the troops a lot closer to the fire," said fire helicopter pilot Kenny Stewart.

These choppers are responsible for dropping water on the flames, transporting ground crews, and getting information about how big the fire is and what the weather conditions might be like.  This is all crucial to their success.

But even though it is a unforgiving job, these crews are full of pride.

"It still puts a smile on my face 23-years later.  It is fun.  It is a nice view from my office,” Stewart said.

"Flying back late evenings, and the sun is getting ready to set and you've had a long fire day.  Landing at an airport somewhere in Washington State, it is pretty awesome," Boyd said.

Not only are they flying the helicopters, pilots have to talk to crews on the ground, the commanders, make sure they drop water in the right place and monitor the winds to make sure everyone is staying safe.

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