What’s that sound? Why some firefighting aircraft have sirens | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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What’s that sound? Why some firefighting aircraft have sirens

FILE PHOTO - A bird dog aircraft
July 18, 2021 - 3:27 PM

As firefighters continue to battle wildfires across the province, residents may hear the sounds of sirens in the air.

Airtankers usually fly in groups of up to four aircraft with a combined capacity of up to 16,000 litres of fire retardant, or more than 11,000 litres for a single, heavier aircraft, according to the province.

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Each group is led by a bird dog plane that directs the airtankers to the most effective and safe drop locations, communicating using sirens.

The first siren indicates an airtanker is going to be nearby dropping retardant, said Sarah Hall, provincial fire information officer with the B.C. Wildfire Service. Bird dogs do not drop retardant.

The second siren signals everything is all clear, she said.

“Right now because it’s been super busy, to hear a siren like that is kind of unsettling but it’s just indicating an airtanker is in the area and they are going to be doing work and dropping retardant,” she said.

An air attack officer, employed by the B.C. Wildfire Service, is also on board the bird dog. The officer serves as the main point of contact for dispatchers at the provincial airtanker centre and for the ground crews on site, allowing the pilots to focus on flying the plane, she said.

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The officer assesses the fire activity and communicates with the ground crews to determine the most effective fire suppression tactics. The air attack officer then instructs the bird dog pilot to show the tankers where the retardant or suppressant should be dropped.

There are two types of firefighting airtankers: land-based airtankers and water-skimmer airtankers and the province uses both types. In an average wildfire season, air tankers conduct about 560 missions throughout the province.

At full operational readiness, the B.C. Wildfire Service operates a fleet of 20 airtankers and eight bird dog aircraft, in addition to a contracted helicopter fleet, according to the government website.

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These eight bird dogs are strategically placed where needed in each fire centre, Hall said.

The B.C. Wildfire Service has responded 1,102 fires so far this year, with 153 this week alone.

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