October 25, 2007

Civil Air Patrol and Firefighting; Revisited

Back in July, I blogged about the use of Civil Air Patrol assets and forest fires. With the recent inferno that has become southern California, the topic has once again been revisited by Midway Six. I have since changed my stance on this topic, Although I believe CAP can become involved in forest fires, it cannot be until the fire is out, and the recovery process begins.

Theoretically, the CAP does have assets that could be of use. Aircraft are used as ‘spotters’, to guide in the air attack planes, and telling them when to drop their payloads. CAP aircraft could easily be used in that kind of support role carrying local forestry officials and having them direct the tankers. This is a useless argument, however. Most (if not all) states either own or contract out aircraft to do just that.

Yet, I believe that CAP would be most useful through are our SDIS and ARCHER capabilities. CAP could most effectively be utilized in post-incident surveillance of the damage to aide the resulting recovery efforts. The Ground Teams could easily be used to help persons gather what belongings are left and begin to pick up their lives. They could also be of use helping to locate the remains of the missing. I would be wary about deploying a CAP Ground Team if the blaze is still going on. I saw a National Geographic documentary recently on smoke jumpers. In it, they described how a fire could still spring up in a burnt-out area even well after the main fire passed through the area. Without supplemental training, I don't think this is a place for our Ground Teams.

One other thing to consider: forest fire fighting is a huge business in Southern California. There is really no way a non-profit organization with cheap aircraft is going to be used in this type of service there. The contractors would never allow it.

I know that I share Midway Six’s feelings of “throw me in the game, coach!”, but the reality is that we can’t help at this point. When all is said and done, CAP can help. But it can’t be done until the initial response process is completed. CAP should be the Federal aerial firefighting agency, but that was not the course we took back in 1948. However, CAP could become a great post-incident resource to those agencies that do respond. If we want to go in that direction, then it should be pursued with all due vigilance.


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