Military making significant contributions to Colorado firefighting efforts
By ERIN PRATER | The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.) | Published: June 13, 2013
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — For Air Force Master Sgt. Tom Freeman, a load master with the 302nd Airlift Wing, every mission is personal.
Some more than others.
On Wednesday morning, he heard his childhood home in Black Forest had burned to the ground.
He mulled that information Wednesday afternoon at a Peterson Air Force Base flightline as he helped prepare one of two modular airborne firefighting system-equipped C-130s that would drop fire retardant along Black Forest fire containment lines.
He would be on one of those aircraft when it dropped slurry later that day.
Freeman has flown over Black Forest many times during training missions. He's used to keeping an eye out for the roads he once drove around on.
On Wednesday, he planned to keep an eye out for the houses of several squadron members — and for his former home.
"Most of my attention will be focused inside" the aircraft, Freeman said.
"But I'd be lying if I said I wouldn't be looking outside."
Participating in a firefighting mission so close to home "sucks," Freeman said.
"But it's also rewarding. You know you're doing something good close to home."
Freeman was one of more than 50 active-duty and Reserve airmen from the 302nd Airlift Wing and the 52nd Airlift Squadron who assisted with the launch of the pair of C-130s on Wednesday.
The U.S. Forest Service-owned planes took off from Peterson about 1:20 p.m. Wednesday for Jefferson County, where they picked up fire retardant before heading back to fight the Black Forest fire.
As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, the planes had dropped 6,000 gallons of fire retardant and were expected to return to Jefferson County for more, a spokesman for the 302nd Airlight Wing said.
The planes were expected to be on standby again Thursday morning, he added.
Troops across the Front Range are contributing to firefighting efforts throughout Southern Colorado, according to the various military organizations.
- The Air Force Academy has deployed two trucks and nine firefighters to the Black Forest fire. They also are providing support to the fire's incident management team and providing airfield support to four Fort Carson helicopters.
- Peterson Air Force Base and Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station have deployed one Type 1 pumper, 11 firefighters, a nine-person hand crew, a four-man crew, a 5,000-gallon water truck with a two-person crew and a structural fire engine with a one-person crew. They are also providing shelter for Department of Defense personnel on Peterson Air Force Base.
- Schriever Air Force Base has provided a fire engine and four-person structural fire protection crew to the Black Forest fire.
- Buckley Air Force Base has provided a 5,000 gallon water truck with a two-person crew.
- Fort Carson has deployed at least 9 firefighters with two trucks and one water tender; four helicopters that are providing bucket drops; and four bulldozers that are cutting firebreaks.
- The Colorado National Guard has provided 40 personnel at security checkpoints in the Black Forest area; eight communications personnel; 13 personnel with high-clearance trucks and water tenders; three aircraft with buckets; and another aircraft equipped for aerial firefighting coordination.
Pilots and crewmembers of the 2nd General Support Aviation Battalion, 4th Aviation Regiment, 4th Combat Aviation Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, go into the thick smoke to release water onto the burning fires during their bambi bucket mission at Black Forest, Colo., June 12, 2013.
JONATHAN C. THIBAULT/U.S. ARMY