Not everybody is happy...
A MATTER OF DOLLARS AND SENSE
-- and the politics of aerial firefighting
Canadair's CL-415s in Los Angeles County
[SIZE=-1] © 1998 Kelly Andersson[/SIZE]
WILDLAND FIREFIGHTER Magazine[/SIZE]
[SIZE=-1]This story originally ran in
the September ‘98 issue of
WILDLAND FIREFIGHTER Magazine.
for back issues. [/SIZE] [SIZE=+1]The Canadian SuperScoopers are the darlings of the media in L.A. County, and the heroes of the skies in the eyes of much of the interface-thick Southern California general public. It's just the rest of the firefighting community who hate them.[/SIZE]
Management personnel with the Los Angeles County Fire Department like ‘em, and homeowners in the hills who've had their houses saved from raging brushfires like ‘em a lot. But things are a little snarly in the fire community. Both groundpounders and those who fight fire from the air insist that L.A. County would be money and effectiveness ahead by contracting helitankers or U.S. waterscoopers, or by buying retrofitted military surplus — or darned near anything but leasing or buying SuperScoopers from Canada. The detractors blame politics, make allegations about skewed studies and bought-off politicians, and repeatedly claim that the L.A. media have mindlessly championed the cause of the target-missing SuperScoopers in favor of the fire-pasting helicopters.
[SIZE=+2]N[/SIZE]o one claiming buy-outs or backroom deals seems to have any evidence, of course, but rumors and gossip repeated often enough seem to take on a truth of their own. And the Los Angeles County Fire Department (LACoFD) is going ahead with this season's lease of SuperScoopers anyway. Two CL-415s leased from the Province of Québec arrived in September, accompanied by fanfare (the land of 1,000 press conferences) and airshows and the attention of local impressionable media. The lease agreement with Québec, valued at a little over $1 million, doesn't include flight hours but does include maintenance and pilots — Québec provides the pilots, two at a time, who are on duty for 30 days before being rotated halfway through the contract. Last year the contract was extended beyond 60 days, and with flight hours included, totaled $1.6 million.
[SIZE=+2]T[/SIZE]he LACoFD provides fire protection and emergency medical services for 51 cities and the unincorporated areas of the county, which has a population of more than 9 million people over its 2,200 square miles. The LACoFD's 3,500-plus employees are stationed at 157 facilities. Canadair's CL-215T gained fame in Southern California during the fall fire seasons of 1994 and 1995 while first on lease with the LACoFD for operational evaluation. From the beginning, firefighters both on the ground and in the air have said that the aircraft were limited by the area's steep terrain and high winds.
[SIZE=+2]T[/SIZE]he planes have been popular with the press and the public, though — the SuperScoopers are dramatic and sexy. It's easy to see how residents fidgeting at the edges of their hillside estates, gripping their garden hoses and watching a fire race up the slope across from them, would see the Scoopers as some kind of rescue angel from the skies. Anything in the air fighting a fire is impressive, but imagine the reaction of moms and tykes at a county park watching a CL-415 scoop from the reservoir. Those reactions have reportedly spawned public pressure on the county politicians, which has undoubtedly played a role in keeping Scoopers airborne over L.A. County.