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,
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
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]