Air tanker training clears up communication at regional airport

“Last year… there was some confusion involved”

After some confusion among the Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport staff caused some unnecessary delays in a firefighting operation at Hartman Rocks last year, a Single Engine Air Tanker, or SEAT, and its pilot touched down at the airport on Thursday, June 11 to make sure the delays wouldn’t happen again.



Colorado State Forest Service fire duty officer Dave Casey said the plane and its pilot, both stationed in Buena Vista, made the half-hour flight at Casey’s request to familiarize the airport staff with the plane and the protocol for refilling the plane with water for fighting fires.
As many as 20 local emergency responders from the Crested Butte and Gunnison Fire Departments as well as U.S. Forest Service and airport personnel participated in the training.
The SEAT can be filled with water or fire retardant to be dropped on wildland fires, in coordination with firefighters on the ground.
“We used a SEAT last year on a small fire outside of Gunnison. The plane reloaded at the Gunnison airport and there was some confusion involved,” Casey said. “The proper fitting for the dry hydrant had to be located and delayed the process.”
The training also let the pilot learn the hand signals and radio frequencies the airport personnel use, so communication between the two can be clear. Now protocol has been established and the airport has the proper hose and several fittings to devote to refilling the plane when it is needed.
Prior to the fire at Hartman Rocks that required the SEAT, the plane was called out for the Wiley Gulch Fire in 2002.
Casey said the plane and pilot are needed about every other year to fight wildland fires around Gunnison County
“In the future, SEAT reloading in Gunnison should go smoother,” Casey said.

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