PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Wildland firefighters and Fire Boss pilots began doing water drops at Hagg Lake on Tuesday as a part of a training program conducted by the Oregon Department of Forestry.
The training began at the Hillsboro Airport. Both firefighters and pilots met to discuss how to make air-to-ground communication better. ODF says Fire Boss is cost-effective. KOIN 6 learned it costs roughly $1.7 million to use a 747 aircraft during a wildland fire whereas it costs the state about $200k to use the Fire Bosses.
Michael Hutchins, Fire Boss pilot and owner of Coastal Air Strike, says the training is important.
“The guys that were asking the questions that were in front of us, those are actually the guys that our out on the ground who are actually working,” he said. “When you do it in a setting like this, it’s relaxed. There’s no rush, it’s really easy to actually train them up so when we actually get on a real fire it’s an easy transition.”
Hutchins says that being a Fire Boss pilot can be incredibly dangerous.
“The terrain and the mountains and the powerlines, those are the really big things. The real gotchas that we look out for (are) those hidden obstacles. The powerlines that cut across a river, or go into a house place that you don’t see, towers you know those things can pop up overnight, whether it be cell towers or whatever,” he said.
However, Hutchings credited the people on the ground for helping him do his job well.
“(I) couldn’t do it without them, we say it all the time. You know, you mention the danger of our job, you can’t over emphasize how dangerous their job is because they’re out there down in the terrain and fire. But they’re great, they’re great to work with,” he said.