Expect a helicopter to arrive before ground crews the next time Sonoma County Fire District firefighters respond to a remote fire. The fire district began using Sonoma County 1, a Reach Air Medical Services aircraft made available as part of a partnership between the two organizations, last month.
The burgundy Eurocopter H135 twin-engine helicopter will be stationed at Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport and will transport patients to hospitals. Sacramento-based Reach is one of the largest air ambulance companies in the Western United States.
Both Parties are Elated About the Partnership
“It’s a fantastic collaboration,” Sonoma County Fire District Chief Mark Heine said. “I get a free firefighting helicopter at no extra cost to taxpayers.” The Fire District was established in 2019 and serves Bodega Bay, Guerneville, Forestville, Windsor, Bennett Valley, and Rincon Valley. During a wildfire, the aircraft can be outfitted with a bucket that can hold up to 120 gallons of water to extinguish the flames. It will also serve as a reconnaissance platform.
The Way Forward
Reach employs the helicopter crew, including the pilot, but a Sonoma County Fire District command officer will be on board during firefighting missions. The two agencies’ agreement has no expiration date, and Heine stated that the fire district will continue to use the helicopter indefinitely.
Reach leaders believed their fleet “could provide much-needed support beyond lifesaving air medical transports, specifically aerial observation and command, evacuation support, and fire suppression” after the Tubbs Fire ravaged Santa Rosa in 2017. Heine said this week that the helicopter is one of the tools that will be used in an emergency.
The Fire District recently received a $571,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Port Security Grant Program to purchase a boat that can be used during coastal emergencies.