Multi-Mission Operator Flagler County FireFlight Will Upgrade to New Airbus H125

by Kelsey Young

For more than two decades, Flagler County FireFlight has relied on the Airbus H125 helicopter to carry out missions extending far beyond firefighting.  Currently operating the oldest “B3 A-Star” in North America, they’ll soon experience significant upgrades with the addition of a new H125.

Flagler County, spanning 571 square miles in northeast central Florida with approximately 20 miles of coastline along the Atlantic Ocean, has experienced its fair share of destructive wildfires. In 1985, the Palm Coast fire ravaged 250 homes, and in 1998, the state of Florida found itself engulfed in a massive firestorm. This resulted in the largest aerial fire suppression event in the U.S. to this point, with firefighting agencies from 44 states joining forces to suppress the flames.

Flagler County was not spared from this event, losing 71 homes, with an additional 165 homes suffering damage. The economic toll amounted to over $16 million in structural damages and a staggering $328 million in timber losses. It was determined that if Flagler County Fire & Rescue had a helicopter, with the top priority of fire suppression, the number of homes lost and damages sustained could have been significantly reduced.

It was in the wake of these catastrophic events that Airbus Helicopters introduced a new, more powerful aircraft which could aid in fire suppression efforts—the AS350 B3. In 2002, the first AS350 B3 in North America, with serial number 2968, found its home in Flagler County. Adopting the call sign “FireFlight” and bearing the tail number N911US, the helicopter quickly became an indispensable asset in the firefighting arena.

“The Airbus helicopters AS350 B3 platform has been a powerhouse in every mission we fly,” said Todd Whaley, Flight Operations Chief for Flagler County FireFlight. “Due to its modularity and flat deck design, we can reconfigure into each mission profile in less than ten minutes. We have a chase truck with additional jet fuel and firefighting foam that will respond to an active wildfire event, which greatly increases our time on station to allow for the maximum amount of water to be delivered.”

The helicopter, equipped with a 210-gallon Bambi Bucket, has since dropped nearly 2 million gallons of water and firefighting foam on hundreds of wildfires throughout Flagler County and its surrounding areas. FireFlight takes the initiative during fire season, often being the first and only asset on the scene, initiating initial attack and promptly calling in additional resources as necessary. This proactive approach has proven effective in tackling wildfires in their infancy, preventing them from escalating into large-scale, newsworthy events.

The Fireflight program operates in close coordination with the Florida Forest Service tractor plow units, providing overwatch and air attack support. Their highly trained team acquires daily fire weather reports, possesses extensive knowledge of fire behavior and the specific fuels present in their operational area. The result? The Flagler County FireFlight program is arguably the most aggressive and proactive wildfire firefighting agency east of the Rockies.

But the FireFlight program doesn’t limit itself to firefighting alone. Recognizing the importance of serving the community, the program obtained certification as an FAA Part 135 air carrier and a Florida State Certified air ambulance. This expanded certification has allowed the program to bring more than $3.6 million in revenue back into Flagler County.

In an effort to provide additional services to the community, FireFlight now assists local law enforcement agencies with its FLIR camera system and night sun, conducts night vision goggle operations, trains and deploys LEO K9s, performs Marine rescue swimmer insertions, executes life raft deployments, and conducts short-haul rescue basket operations. Additionally, they proudly fly the giant American flag using the AS350 B3 platform during numerous community events throughout the year.

The team at FireFlight, which consists of two pilots and seven firefighter, flight paramedics is highly trained and up for any task, and they’re looking forward to the benefits that will come with the addition of a new H125.

“I look forward to the significant upgrades, and power that the new H125 offers, along with its ease of maintenance, availability of parts and spares and overall, the great customer service I have received from Airbus and Safran alike. I know this personally, as I am also the helicopter mechanic,” said Whaley. “And when I engage into a firefight I do so with the utmost confidence in this workhorse. The old B3 has been reliable and has proven herself time and time again, and I expect the new H125 to perform on a whole new level. I once heard Airbus helicopters describe our unit as the Swiss army knife of the industry. My description is just another day at the office.”

This content was republished with permission from Aibus Helicopters.

AerialFire Staff
AerialFire Staff
AerialFire Magazine strives to provide you with breaking aerial firefighting industry news and information.

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