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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on December 12th, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 41 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 19, Issue 41

Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors approve recommendation to purchase Blackhawk helicopter

By Joe Payne

The prospect of adding a Blackhawk helicopter to the Santa Barbara County Fire Department's fleet of emergency response aircraft was met with unanimous approval from the county's Board of Supervisors, despite the $4.7 million price tag.

At the board's Dec. 11 meeting, county Fire Department Interim Chief Michael Dyer delivered a presentation to the board, detailing the Blackhawk helicopter owned by the state National Guard that was recently made available for purchase. Supervisors listened to consider a county recommendation to put in a competitive bid for the aircraft.

"A year ago, as everyone's been mentioning, we had the Thomas Fire in this county," Dyer said. "And we now have the opportunity to acquire the aircraft that won't be able to put out the fires itself, but will be part of an amazing fleet that we have in this county. It's going to be able to really, really help us, not only in firefighting, but in rescue and SWAT operations."

The projected cost to purchase the helicopter was $1.7 million, according to Dyer's report, and the rest of the costs would come from maintenance and modifications.

The most expensive modification would be the addition of a 1,000-gallon tank for air drops, Dyer explained, which was projected to cost $2.1 million. The costly modification is worth it, he said, as the county works to modernize its fleet of aircraft.

"To give you an idea of how young this aircraft is, all of our current is, I wouldn't say older than I, but they're close," Dyer said. "They're '60s-era Vietnam aircraft."

The Blackhawk, which was built in 2002 and used as an air ambulance by the National Guard, can carry more people than current aircraft, is faster, will be able to carry more water after the modifications, and has twin engines, Dyer explained, which will allow for more flexibility with the county's emergency air response.

"This is going to be a huge asset for us," he said. "Flying over the island, flying at night, flying over a flood–it's high performance, proven performance in the military."

Third District County Supervisor Joan Hartmann had asked Dyer to share the information at the meeting after he told her the helicopter was available. Her own experience with wildfire evacuation this year helped motivate her to push for the acquisition.

"I have a really personal interest in this because I was evacuated with the Windmill Fire about a quarter mile away from my home a few months ago," Hartmann said. "The only reason I think our home didn't burn down was because of the aircraft that were there within minutes. ... It seems to me that we're turning a corner with our ability to fight fires with aircraft, and that's really significant."

Both 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino and 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam were supportive of the purchase, but expressed concern about where the funding would come from. 

"I think it's very important for us to modernize our fleet," Lavagnino said. "Obviously we're flying aircraft right now that are old ... I just want to make sure that these are fire district funds and not general fund dollars."

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