TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. – While the wildfires in Colorado are more than 1,500 miles away, Air Forces Northern (AFNORTH) here is actively role in fighting them.
Under the direction of the Joint Forces Air Component Commander (JFACC) for AFNORTH, two U.S. Air Force C-130 Hercules aircraft equipped with fire-fighting capabilities were activated to assist in wildfire suppression in Southern Colorado.
The U.S. Forest Service requested and U.S. Northern Command approved the deployment and employment of two C-130s equipped with Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems, known as MAFFS, Wednesday.
MAFFS is a self-contained aerial firefighting system that can discharge 3,000 gallons of water or fire retardant in less than five seconds, covering an area one-quarter of a mile long by 100-feet wide.
“The MAFFS aircraft come from the 302nd Airlift Wing in Colorado Springs, Colo.,” Col. Van Wimmer, Air, Space and Operations Director, said. “The aircraft will operate from Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs. MAFFS are important because they provide a surge capability that boosts wildfire suppression efforts when commercial air tankers are fully committed.”
Wimmer said the MAFFS team is ready because of all of the training and coordination conducted in the months prior to the June 1 start of wildfire season.
“This is our initial and extremely rapid response, a direct result of the coordinated efforts of U.S. Northern Command, AFNORTH, the 302nd AW, and the U.S. Forest Service,” he said. “Our active preparation efforts over the last four to five months made it possible for these MAFFS to respond at a moment's notice.”
Wimmer went on to say how impressive the response time was since the unit was airborne just 12 hours after receiving a request for assistance.
Also, AFNORTH’s National Security Emergency Preparedness (NSEP) Directorate activated two Emergency Preparedness Liaison Officers (EPLOs) to assist the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Region VIII in wildfire suppression efforts in Colorado as well.
Air Force EPLOs are senior Air Force Reserve officers who are subject matter experts in state and regional disaster response plans. They advise state and region emergency representatives on Air Force capabilities that can be used during disaster responses.
The EPLOs' skills, experience and knowledge of U.S. Air Force capabilities will assist in determining the right resources when Department of Defense assets are requested by civilian authorities to support the response within the stricken areas.
“EPLOs are important to our mission,” Rodney Simmons, NSEP Director, said. “They ensure our resources are used wisely and that we send the right things to the right place at the right time.”
EPLOs are geographically assigned to each state and the 10 FEMA Regional Response Coordination Centers. The officers come from a wide range of career fields including air operations, logistics, medical, security forces and public affairs.
AFNORTH, a tenant unit at Tyndall AFB, is the air component for U.S. Northern Command and when tasked, provides support to local, state, tribal, regional and federal emergency service agencies.
The Department of Defense is flying at the request of the National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group (NMAC) at the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) in Boise, Idaho, and has a long-standing effective partnership with NIFC. From 2002 to 2012, MAFFS-equipped military C-130s have delivered approximately 10 million gallons of retardant on wildfires. This effort is part of a long-standing relationship between DoD, NIFC and local authorities to work together to provide timely and effective containment actions.
NIFC assigns the aircraft to geographic area coordination centers which then assign them to specific wildfires. Once deployed to support wildland firefighting efforts, DoD assets are employed as determined by the requesting civil authority. Dispatch centers deploy aircraft to drop retardant based on requests from civilian incident commanders.