Fixed wing and rotary aircraft (helicopters) are increasingly being used to assist in the suppression of grass and wild fires.
Although initially deployed for large rural fires, recent fires in urban areas of Melbourne have required the deployment of aircraft for asset protection. Often ground attack resources have difficulties in reaching the head of a fire due to inaccessible terrain or the rate of spread of the fire.
This is where an aerial attack is advantageous in being able to pinpoint a precise area for water and/or retardant bombing to reduce the rate of spread of fire.
The following frequencies may be of value for monitoring of aircraft activity during fire suppression operations.
132.55 (State Default)
Air to Air communications between aircraft – 123.450 MHz AM
Air to Ground communications 161.2125 FM
Two other frequencies of note are:
126.800 MHz AM Air Services statewide air control
125.100 MHz AM Essendon (YMEN) Tower
In firefighting operations a frequency is generally chosen for each individual fire requiring fire suppression support by aircraft.
A BIRDDOG will be assigned to co-ordinate aerial fire suppression activities from FIREBIRD/HELITAK (helicopters) and BOMBER (fixed wing) aircraft.
The BIRDDOG crew have two main tasks.
One is to direct aircraft to fast running grass or bushfires, spot fires and breakaways in order to minimize the spread of fire and/or provide protection to life or property under immediate threat.
The second is to ensure that aircraft operating in the fire area are co-ordinated in their delivery of water or retardant onto the fire area and that at all times risk is minimized in a typically busy airspace by ensuring adequate distance between aircraft and ground hazards, such as power lines.
Media helicopters from television stations will request permission from BIRDDOG to conduct filming operations in the fire area.
Some years ago each television channel had access to their own helicopter. Not anymore, one would expect due to cost factors as it is very expensive to run helicopters.
Media 39, formally the Channel 9 helicopter (VH-HWA) has now been repainted with no overt markings and is now Media 38. It is understood that Media 38 will take vision for a range of news organizations.
The State Aircraft Unit (SAU) in Melbourne co-ordinates the deployment of aircraft throughout the State for all fire agencies and when necessary provides support to interstate fire and emergency services agencies. The SAU constantly revises its strategic plans for deployment of aircraft based on current and forecast weather conditions and threat potential.
At altitude radio signals in the Very High Frequency (VHF) band may be heard for hundreds of kilometres.
At times aircraft may be deployed to multiple fire operations and it is therefore important to carefully co-ordinate fire air attack channels to avoid interference to operations.