Always hunting for new and unique fire apparatus for my monthly columns, I recently came across a new helicopter tender for the Honolulu (HI) Fire Department (HFD) built by SVI. I don’t think in my 17 years of writing this column that I ever covered this type of apparatus before.
In any case, to give you a little background, the HFD serves and protects the entire island of Oahu, covering more than 600 square miles (1,600 km2) of territory, home to more than 880,000 residents and more than four million annual visitors.
To cover this territory, the department operates two McDonnell-Douglas MD 520N No Tail Rotor (NOTAR®) helicopters. The helicopters are designated Air 1 and Air 2. Air 1 and Air 2 alternate duty, enabling at least one helicopter to be available for emergencies if the other is down for maintenance or repairs. Occasionally, both helicopters will be dispatched to emergencies. Air 1 and Air 2 are on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week. HFD helicopters respond to emergencies on Oahu, including the ocean up to three miles offshore. Although helicopter operations are expensive, the HFD does not charge the public for rescue services. Both helicopters are based at Honolulu International Airport.
The Honolulu Fire Department (HFD)
According to Dean Demello, the fire equipment supervisor for the HFD, “We needed to replace our old helicopter tender, which was a 1991 Peterbuilt COE vehicle. The department started planning for the purchase approximately three years ago. Originally, the project funding was too low, but we worked through the budget and found some money.” Demello continues, “We have an apparatus replacement schedule like most departments. It is as follows: specialty Vehicles 15 years, pumpers 10 years, ladders 15 to 20, command 10 years. There would also be a reserve status for five years. Going by this program, we were 10 years over the replacement for the helicopter tender.”
The department designed the new vehicle with a great deal of improvements compared to the 25-year-old unit it was replacing. When working on the specs, personnel wanted a unit that had a shorter wheelbase that was more maneuverable and could travel in tight areas, especially in parks and smaller areas. “More space was needed on the vehicle to carry additional equipment so we removed the generator and ran everything 12 volts,” Demello says. The design the department worked on with SVI was to install Northstar Flat Plate batteries; they save space and are more cost effective. The system was designed so that the department could have the three batteries mounted together so that they could be lifted out easily for easier maintenance. “We also had SVI install a heavier alternator and built-in charger. The batteries for the rear workings of the unit are separate from the truck batteries,” Demello adds.
The vehicle carries two Buoy walls (collapsible tanks) that hold 3,000 gallons of water so the helicopter can deploy one of two Bambi buckets. It also carries a Tri-Max Foam CAFS unit, 100 feet of hose with a premix of water and foam, and 500 gallons of Jet A fuel.
All the cabinets have Gray Lino linings and are LED illuminated. Another feature that was installed was an electric remote-control light tower with hands-free headset and control to aid in lighting up a landing zone for night operations. The truck also has a reverse camera and an LED light package all around.
The vehicle responds on a special call basis when the helicopters are dispatched. It is staffed by one firefighter from Station 30 about a mile from the airport. A landing zone is usually set up by the closest responding engine company. For prolonged operations, the incident commander and pilot will usually confer where it is best needed.
“SVI worked well with our committee to design the vehicle,” Demello says. “They answered all of our questions and helped us along the way with the build.”
A lot of preplanning went into the design of this specialty unit for the HFD. The department planned for the future, making sure that compartment space was adequate for what they needed to respond with. They were proactive with the electrical system and batteries, removing the generator and having a 12-volt system run the whole vehicle and its components.
If you have to plan for a specialty unit for your department, sometimes it’s harder than planning the specs for a traditional engine or ladder. Investigate what’s out there that you can install to improve efficiency of the vehicle and maybe increase space. If a vehicle is 20 or 25 years old, many new designs in apparatus safety and efficiency are out there; you just have to hunt around, investigate, and talk to the manufacturers’ engineers to make your build the best for you and your community.