One clear sign the Bay Area’s rainy season is starting is when Cal Fire starts shifting its training to water rescues. On Wednesday, helicopter crews known as Helitack, began training with other agencies to deal with the risks that come with the changing weather. 

The Cal Fire Helitack unit based at Lexington Reservoir near Los Gatos found out it will get a new $24 million Black Hawk helicopter similar to the one they used for drills.

The Helicopter, dubbed the Cal Fire Hawk, can cruise at 160-miles per hour and hold more cargo and crew, including a 1,000 gallon water tank compared to the current 325-gallon bucket. 

“Obviously there’s more water capability and a safety factor,” said pilot Jason Thrasher. “It’s a twin engine helicopter where the old Hueys are single engine aircraft. So it increases the safety margin.”

For now, the training is still being done with the old Hueys, with crews hoisting potential victims out of the water. 

The Helitack crew operated quickly and efficiently, but eventually the Black Hawk will arrive with the latest rescue hoists allowing for faster response and more complicated rescues. 

“The Air Rescue Program started as a program to rescue firefighters from a fire line and has morphed into rescuing civilians as well. So, obviously with the winter months coming up, there is a potential for flooding and water-type rescues,” said Captain Sean Ketchum.

Whether it’s record fires or potential floods, the Helitack crew will be ready for whatever the weather brings next.


By Kelley Wheeler

Kelley Wheeler is a Metro reporter covering political issues and general assignments. A second-generation journalist, worked with all major news outlet, she holds a vast expeirience. Kelley is a graduate of USC with degrees in journalism and English literature. She is a recipient of Yale’s Poynter Fellowship in Journalism.

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