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Sun, Oct 28, 2007

Navy HCC Coordinates Naval Helicopter Operations During San Diego Wildfires

The Commander, Helicopter Maritime Strike Wing Pacific, officially established the Helicopter Coordination Center (HCC) at Naval Air Station North Island, Oct. 22, to coordinate Navy and Marine helicopters flying in support of firefighters battling the San Diego wildfires.

The HCC receives helicopter support requests through the Navy Region Southwest Emergency Operations Center from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention (CalFire) and tasks local helicopter squadrons to provide the assistance needed.

"We wanted to provide a focal point for helicopter operations here at North Island," said HCC Director, Lt. Cmdr. Joe Amaral. "This helps with managing our helicopter assets in responding to taskings from CalFire." According to Amaral, the HCC has enabled critical communication between the different agencies involved.

"If there wasn't this sort of communication in place, there would be no way for a firefighter on the ground, who needs airborne assets, to get the assistance in a timely manner," said Amaral.

The HCC is answering requests from CalFire by using all variants of H-60 helicopters from North Island, Marine Corps CH-46 and CH-53 helicopters from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar and Camp Pendleton, and a UH-1N helicopter from Naval Air Station Fallon, Nev.

Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 85, flying the MH-60S, have conducted water drop missions every day of the crisis, beginning Oct. 22. The squadron had an established relationship with CalFires already in place prior to the breakout of fires in Southern California this week. Air crews from HSC-85 had trained with CalFire to become familiar with their firefighting procedures, and the squadron had cooperated with the agency to fight fires in July 2006.

Navy helicopters have not only supported firefighters during the day, but also at night.

According to Amaral, several other helicopter squadrons from North Island have flown night missions using infrared cameras to assess fire damage and survey areas for active fire or hidden embers. They are also on standby daily to provide search and rescue or logistics support if needed.

"We are certainly putting forth the best effort we possibly can, and we wouldn't be able to do this without the help of all of the squadrons in the wing providing crews on standby and HCC watch standers. It's a team effort," said Amaral. [ANN Salutes Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class (SW) Ahron Arendes, Naval Air Forces Public Affairs]



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