Thursday, March 16, 2006
Help wanted fighting wildfires: No hotheads need apply
March is supposed to be a quiet month for wildfires. That's why the Aerial Firefighting Institute holds its annual training school this time of year in Safford, Arizona, for pilots of SEAT planes, or single-engine air tankers.

The pilots of these planes typically are the first-responders to wildfires. Get on the fire, and get on it fast, are words these firefighters live by. If you don't see them and the fires they're fighting on TV, then that means they are doing their job.

While P3 air-tankers "bomb" the big fires, SEAT pilots attack the small ones before they get big. In theory, at least, that's how it's supposed to work. But lately, there have been so many big fires that SEAT pilots are fighting them alongside the "bombers."

The SEAT "attack fighters" are single-seat, modified crop-dusters that can drop 800 gallons of water and fire retardant while flying high speeds in tight locations. This is risky business that requires lots of training. No cowboys allowed here. Only experienced pilots with a cool head need apply.

Apparently, they won't let hotheaded Italians fly either. That would be me. I'm so bummed they won't let me go for a ride. LEGAL issues they say.

Whatever.

Well, it's pretty cool to see the training from the ground. Anybody out there ever want to be a crop-duster or aerial firefighter? With the early start to this season, they may very well be hiring.
Posted By Rob Marciano, CNN Weather Anchor: 10:21 AM ET
  5 Comments
My daughter is a firefighter, and has been on calls locally for wildfires in our county. While they haven't been as extensive as the fires out west, one of them was adjacent to a neighborhood of million-dollar homes. This fire was started by kids playing with fireworks - which are illegal in our county. Dry conditions and high winds have made it difficult to keep the fires from re-igniting; firefighters are having to 'babysit' the burned areas to put out hotspots.

The largest fire in the area was fought on the ground, but with major assistance from aerial water drops.
Posted By Anonymous Deb, Richmond VA : 11:12 AM ET
Hahaha! You're a funny guy. From one hot-headed Italian to another, don't despair. Just go have some lasagna and some wine and you'll feel better! Mangia!

Back to the topic, though, I hope your story will prompt some people to train for this work. Hearing about hundreds of thousands of acres burning makes it hard to believe there's anything left to burn.
Posted By Anonymous AM, Piscataway, NJ : 11:50 AM ET
little taste of how bad fire season will be in the west
Posted By Anonymous matt ,sarasota ,fl : 12:56 PM ET
Being a veteran Forest Service employee, I've been a fire lookout, handcrew member, engine crewman and worked on timber and fire salvage sales. I miss going on small lightning fires and doing controlled burning in the fall but, my work is needed elsewhere.

In seeing the problems with firefighting aircraft, I was pleasantly surprised to hear about a group of pilots who want to use A-10 Warthogs as fire fighting bombers. Those are THE perfect aircraft for precision drops and, above all, safety for the pilots. They have a website at www.firehogs.com

Wouldn't THAT be one of the most exciting jobs around?
Posted By Anonymous Larry, Sierra Nevada, California : 1:19 PM ET
Hi Rob,
I'm not having much luck getting any of my comments onto these blogs, but I'll try again with yours..Living in Calif. we always breathe a little easier when we see an aerial drop during a wildfire..Thank heavens for all of them on the ground and in the air..They risk their lives..I live in a rural area and have seen it in action..We owe them alot..Take Care
Posted By Anonymous Lorie Ann, Buellton Calif. : 2:39 PM ET
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