Saturday, May 15, 2010

crash course

I've torn apart a multitude of vehicles in my career. Chevys, Fords, Hondas . . . cars, trucks, vans . . . doors, roofs, pillars, trunks . . . limb from groaning limb, using heavy hydraulics and hand tools, both at emergency scenes and in training.

I've never had a chance to destroy an aircraft. Helicopters and planes don't fall out of the sky as often as their rolling road cousins fall off the highway, so I never felt the need to pursue training on the subject. At least, not until MNR (the forest fire experts) asked me to teach a one-day course on aircraft extrication.

Being the practical, hands-on kind of guy that I am, my first question was, "Do you have an old plane or chopper we can cut up for practice? No? How about a tour of the hangar so we can study the anatomy of your aircraft? No? A photo? No? A list of construction materials? A hand sketched artist's impression maybe? A crayon drawing by your four year old daughter . . . ?

I guess when you own flying machines that cost 30 million dollars, you have to be fussy about who gets close to your fleet. You never know when potential saboteurs might be masquerading as extrication instructors. I'll have to add this problem to my fix-it list for when I become King of the World . . .

Fortunately, even marginal fire chiefs on the peripheral edge of the universe can access information through the internet. I took a wandering odyssey in search of aircraft extrication wisdom, and unearthed enough photos and info to get me started. Then I used a figurative vise to crunch four days of intensive hands-on, smash and crash training into one day of I-hope-I'm-not-boring-you classroom education. Not the best way to skin the cat, but at least they got an overview.

After the dust settled, and the students filed out of the room, their brains overflowing with information, one of the crew bosses approached me.

"Did I hear you say you want to see the aircraft?"

"Can I?"

"I don't see why not . . . "

Sigh. Where was this guy last week when I was trying to convince the world that I wasn't a terrorist? But better late than never.

Here's my off-the-cuff impression of the two aircraft I toured: the helicopter is made of cardboard, so don't sneeze too hard or the doors will fall off. No problem getting in if it crashes . . . there won't be any "in" or "out" left. The waterbomber, on the other hand, is like a flying tank . . . a water tank and an armoured tank that stands 29 feet high, with a wingspan of 93 feet. If this baby goes down, and you respond for extrication, don't expect be be home by dinner time.

Those waterbomber pilots need a doctorate in Gadgetology, with nerves of steel to boot. I sat in the pilot seat for about five minutes and started getting air sick . . . and the plane wasn't even moving. The cockpit dash was a sea of dials and gauges and switches and buttons . . . and somehow these guys decipher this menagerie of technology well enough to scoop up 1350 imperial gallons of water in 12 seconds, and drop it with deadly precision on the fire.

As a side note, if you're a waterbomber pilot in Northwestern Ontario, and the weather gremlins continue on with their current policy, don't expect to get many holidays this summer. It's not quite Sahara Desert dry out there, but it's getting close.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah if I never get in another helicopter again, that 'll be fine. Cardboard, indeed. Too bad they wouldn't let you take an Amkus or Hurst cutter to the plane though...


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