Emergency Response Up Close

In April, both the California Senate and Assembly passed resolutions in support of the second annual California Aviation Day.  Included in the five “Whereas” clauses of each resolution is the following, “Whereas, In addition to the general economic benefits they offer California’s communities, airports provide convenient and efficient access to remote portions of the State, essential health care services, emergency medical transport, emergency response, and overnight mail delivery.”  “Emergency response” being the point for today.

We live in Shasta County, California, which is predominately rural and mountainous.  Our city, Redding, is blessed with two public use airports.  Benton Field (O85), on the west side of town, is a general aviation facility which houses, among other things, the California Highway Patrol’s north state air wing.  Redding Municipal Airport (KRDD), on the southeast side of town, is the commercial service airport.  Among the many essential services located at KRDD is the U.S. Forest service fire base which also houses a CalFire base.

Shasta County is no stranger to wildfires, which emphasizes the critical importance of the fire bases at KRDD.  The September 2013 disastrous Clover Fire, about 10 miles south of Redding, ultimately consumed over 8,000 acres and nearly 200 structures.  So we’re sort of sensitive about these things around here.

On June 15 I had the opportunity to witness the airport’s emergency response value up close.  We live about two miles northwest of KRDD and in spite of many large trees between our home and the airport, we can often see aircraft approaching and departing the airport or in the pattern.  While enjoying what promised to be a quiet Father’s Day late afternoon on the patio, I heard a helicopter approaching and then saw the CHP helicopter passing over our home in the direction of the airport.  Nothing unusual about that.

Then things turned really unusual, with sirens blaring from several directions, all heading in the same direction.  As it turns out, a fire had started less than a mile north of the airport.  Moments later two CalFire S-2 tankers took off to the north and then turned south, both passing directly overhead.  Shortly later a spotter plane showed up circling high overhead.  And that was the start of what could have been a fun 45 minute air show, had it not been for the realization that someone’s property and possibly home was burning less than a mile away.  And as we saw in September, these things can get very big very quickly.

Ultimately the three CalFire aircraft, two helicopters, and 18 assorted fire vehicles controlled the blaze.  No 8,000 acres this time.  Had it been, I might not be sitting here writing this today.

The event brings renewed appreciation and meaning to a statement on an Aviation Day Resolution citing the importance of airports in emergency response.  Thanks to all the emergency response providers for all they do.