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Mon, Feb. 24

Newly-certified rappel team will aid with wildland fires

The park's helicopter crew has a new weapon to fight wildland fire and enhance search and rescue capabilities ­ a trained helirappel team.

"This is a great tool to add to our toolkit out there," said Helicopter Program Manager Michael Ebersole.

He said the team would primarily go into action for wildland fire in inaccessible or remote areas.

"There are places where we can't take vehicles. This will enable us to get folks on the ground," he said.

Nine park employees, seven Forest Service employees and six contract helicopter pilots completed their final phase of intensive helicopter rappel training last month.

After rappel simulator training at the Prescott Fire Center, they continued with additional ground training at the South Rim Helibase. After that, the crews switched to "live" or actual rappels from a Bell 407 helicopter, 50 to 200 feet above the ground.

Forest Service and Depart-ment of the Interior inspectors certified crew members after they completed every phase of the ground and airborne training error-free.

According to Ebersole, the project was four years in the making. Though fire managers here though that helirappel capability would be a good thing to have, it was given the push forward by Helicopter Manager Mike Minton, who had seen such teams in action when he worked with the Bureau of Land Management.

"Even before Mike's time, people thought this would be a place where we could use a tool like this," Ebersole said. "But Mike was the key person behind the whole thing. It would not have happened without him."

In 2002, they approached the park's senior staff and made the case for providing the training.

Along with the program, fire officials have launched a partnership with the Kaibab National Forest. The Helitack Interaction Plan will encourage more interaction and enable the park's new rappel crew to gain from KNF's nationally-recognized program.

Ebersole extended thanks to Forest Service personnel from the Kaibab and Coronado National Forests, from Region 3, from Papillon Helicopters, the Missoula Technology Development Center and staff from Department of Interior's Aviation Management Directorate.

He also praised the patience and cooperation from all who were affected by the scheduling of training around day-to-day helicopter operations like medevacs, search and rescues, short-hauls and aerial ignitions.

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