Everything is Different in Covid Era — Including Fighting Wildfires

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way most Americans do just about everything — and that includes fighting wildfires.

Columbia Helicopters, a global leader in heavy-lift helicopter operations and manufacture, maintenance, repair services based at the Aurora State Airport, has several of its signature tandem-rotor CH-47D Chinook helitankers stationed around the country — either actively fighting wildfires, or just standing by.

According to the American Helicopter Services and Aerial Firefighting Association, the country is currently seeing a surge in wildfire events, with U.S. Forest Service-contracted companies like Columbia scrambling to respond — while keeping their pilots, mechanics and other field crew safe from the continuing threat of Covid-19.

“It was a great challenge — which we have met — to implement the safety measures for the coronavirus, per the CDC guidelines,” said Columbia Director of Commercial Operations Keith Saylor. “We not only had to assure social distancing, but the availability and use of personal protective equipment, along with establishing procedures for sterilizing our helicopters and support equipment.”

Like many organizations, the company has pivoted to more video conferencing and web presentations for crew training and communications, he added. The company’s crews have also been thoroughly trained to take protective measures in hotel rooms and other public places.

“We’re using hand sanitizers, especially after coming into contact with high touch surfaces such as doorknobs and light switches,” he explained.

Saylor said this year’s fire season is shaping up to be more active than normal, especially in the Pacific Northwest, where heavy rains have generated a considerable amount of fuel.

Columbia has a CH-47D helicopter working on the Bush Fire near Phoenix, Ariz., since mid-June, and has other crews positioned in Ely, Minn., and Salmon, Idaho, as well as Cortez and Oakridge in Colorado.

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