Public Safety

County, City Team Up to Expand Night-Flying Helicopter Use

From a hangar at Montgomery Field where the City of San Diego’s night-flying helicopters are stationed, San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts and Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer announced an agreement Tuesday that improves emergency and fire preparedness and cooperation throughout the county.

The agreement calls for the City of San Diego’s two firefighting and rescue helicopters with night-flying capability to be available for nighttime water drops and rescues in the county’s 17 other cities and unincorporated areas. These helicopters are the only air resources in the region capable of providing night fire-fighting operations.

“The new City-County partnership to extend night flights to all corners of our region is great news for residents and builds on our efforts to bolster fire protection,” Chairwoman Jacob said of the agreement. “Wildfire is a year-round threat in San Diego County, from our cities to our backcountry, so I want to thank Mayor Faulconer for his leadership on this critical issue.”

Under the agreement, the City will respond to requests from other local agencies to provide nighttime helicopter flights in support of wildfire and emergency medical rescue operations to the extent its helicopters are operationally available. The County will then reimburse the City for its flight and staffing costs.

“Expanding access to night-flying helicopters is our newest tool to protect residents and keep our region on the cutting edge of public safety,” said Supervisor Ron Roberts. “This agreement worked out with Mayor Faulconer is the latest example of how the County and the City of San Diego are working tirelessly and cooperatively to improve emergency response capabilities before disaster strikes.”

The night-flying agreement has been in effect since Dec. 1 and expires June 30, 2016, with five one-year optional extensions to be mutually agreed upon by both the City and County. The use of the City’s Bell 212 and Bell 412EP helicopters will be reimbursed at a rate of $3,721 and $5,027, respectively, per flight hour.

“When a wildfire comes we have to be focused on results and saving lives, not jurisdictional boundaries drawn on a map,” Mayor Faulconer said. “That’s why the City and County are embarking on a new level of cooperation to make sure our region is as prepared as possible for whatever comes our way. We’re all in this together. I want to thank the County supervisors for their great teamwork.”

Since the devastating 2003 and 2007 wildfires, great strides have been made by the region’s firefighting agencies to work more collaboratively and make significant operational changes aimed at bolstering fire protection.

For example, the County has spent more than $317 million since 2003 on improvements, including funds to develop a more nimble and professionally trained firefighting force and technology improvements like the Next Generation Incident Command System and a regional emergency app.

During the same period, the City has purchased new fire apparatus and built a reserve fleet of 32 apparatus for surge capacity. In addition, the City now has more than 1,500 Community Emergency Response Team volunteers trained to assist as disaster service workers in the event of a large wildfire.

“Just as they did during the May wildfires, our night-flying helicopters and crews have time and again proved their value as a critical regional resource to combat wildfires and perform life-saving rescue and medical missions,” said San Diego Fire-Rescue Chief Javier Mainar. “With this cooperative agreement, we will be in a position to make a difference the next time we’re needed anywhere in our county.”