How difficult is it to fly a firefighting helicopter?
There are two types of flights: those that carry people and those related to aerial work, which range from checking power lines and laying electricity cables, to fighting fires. With all aerial work, the risk is that you fly very close to the ground, which means that you are in danger of colliding with obstacles. The most serious risks are cables, and in fires you also have to watch out so as not to collide with other aircraft.
And the smoke?
Just like with the fog, we know that it is mandatory to avoid flying into smoke. Not just because of visibility but also because smoke can make the machine seize up, because the engine runs on air and fuel.
How do you tackle a fire?
The helicopter base is in Sa Coma and every time I go out, I do so with the Ibanat forest fire brigades. If we have a call, I go out with the forest firefighters and an Environmental Agent (AMA). We notify the headquarters about the situation and the AMA is the one who decides whether to take action or not. When the decision is made to intervene, I leave the firefighters as close as possible to the fire and they take out what is called the ‘bambi bucket’, which is the bag that drops the water and which I use to help the brigades to attack and tame the fire. The guys who are on the ground are the ones who are really important, because they are the ones who are right by the fire and who stay to finish off at night if there are still embers burning. Our work is a team effort and everyone, absolutely everyone, contributes to putting out the fire. And when I say everyone, I don’t mean just the pilot, but also the mechanic who checks that the helicopter is in good condition to fly every single day, the brigades, the firefighters, the volunteers from Civil Protection, Emergencies…
The ‘bambi bucket’ has a capacity of 900 litres. How long does it take to fetch water and where does it come from?
What I do is go to a firefighting pool of water, and if I can’t find one, I’m allowed to take water from any pool, but I always try not to cause any inconvenience. It doesn’t take long, depending on how close the pool is.
“WE WORK AS A TEAM AND WE ALL CONTRIBUTE TO PUTTING OUT THE FIRE”
What was the biggest fire you’ve worked on?
In 2005, in the Sierra de Cazorla (Jaén), and it was awful because it is a Natural Park. Some 4,500 hectares burned, they split us up by sectors and more than 40 aircraft participated. During that fire I was working 4 days in a row for 8 hours at a time, which is the maximum we can work per day.
What are the characteristics of the helicopter you fly?
The helicopter is an AS 350 B3/ H125, which is the only one capable of hovering at the top of Everest, because its power-to-weight ratio is maximum – in other words, it has a lot of power because of how little it weighs. It is a very agile and very twitchy helicopter that’s ideal for fires, but at the same time the maximum I can carry is four firefighters, plus an AMA and me.