To fight a fire Author: TriSecDate:06/18/2011 11:19:08
A fine day is in the offing in these parts...I'm headed off to the pond in a bit for another day of kayaking with Mr. Bean. Alas, that means I'll miss a wee little parade downtown today, but I guess that happens.
Let's talk about a couple of subjects that are near and dear to me...fire and airplanes. We'll start with fire. Not a small, cheerful campfire, mind you...but something more like this:
This is not from a current fire...the image comes from the Bitteroot Fire (MT), circa 2007.
We're all East-Coast bloggers here. For the most part, we've never dealt with anything larger than a common brush fire, or perhaps a larger structure fire. When I was a kid, one of the larger conflagrations in the US took place at Chelsea, MA..which has a surprisingly limited internet presence today. The point is, most of us have no concept of the massively-large fires currently burning in Arizona, Alberta Canada, or Florida. Of course, you're probably not aware of the latter two fires, as they've grown at the same speed and time as the Weiner fire in New York, but I digress.
Firefighting is a massive industry in the West. Most of us have heard of smoke-jumpers, and readers of this blog are well aware of the 'water-bomber' aircraft that are in widespread use. Let's take a brief look at what I consider to be the best firefighting aircraft in the world today, the Beriev Be-200:
On our side of the pond, every bit its equal is the Canadair CL-215:
Both of these aircraft are manufactured new in their respective countries...and were designed from the ground up as firefighting aircraft.
Meanwhile, here in America, we've got a grand total of three firefighting aircraft that I would consider their equals, but in typical American style, we've done it by brute force instead of the design elegance exhibited by the other two aircraft. I won't link the videos, but if you're interested...the aircraft are the Martin Mars, a converted Boeing 747, and a converted DC-10 airliner.
Let's think about the Mars for just a second...this particular aircraft was designed in 1938, and a grand total of 7 were built for the Navy in WWII. After the war, most of them were scrapped (one burned), and some enterprising gentleman bought 2 surplus planes and converted them for firefighting. Think about that for a minute...that airframe is 66 years old. Would you want a firefighter pulling up to your house in a 1945-vintage fire engine? (of course, I'd think "YES". It's better than nothing, right?)
The rest of the US firefighting fleet is a mishmosh of converted freighters and helicopters...most of which are pushing 40 years old. Aircraft can fly for a long time with proper maintenence....but shouldn't we be doing better? (And I need not remind everyone of the C-130 crash in 2002? A PBY Privateer also went down that same year, killing the aircrews in both instances.)
This past Thursday, I was trying to listen to the Best of Shane-O (Ustream, urgh!) and the fires were briefly mentioned in the chatroom that evening, with a good amount of snark. I wanted to make the point that perhaps we should buy some new firefighting equipment. Come on, Boeing or Lockheed could very easily design and build something from the ground up, but those aircraft would be tasked with saving lives instead of taking them.
I don't know...perhaps I see a metaphor for the country in all this. We're going down in flames, and the efforts to save us are little more than containment and pinpricks at the perimeter. Solving the problem for good would require leadership, decision making, and of course money. Perhaps if a massive firestorm overtook one of these places, and owners watched their million-dollar homes reduced to ash while vintage aircraft dribbled overhead, there might be motivation to do something.
But we all know Congress will simply take the donations, take care of their friends, and continue to fiddle while the rest of Rome burns.