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Forest and fire agencies take stock of air assets

Hattervig explains the function of fueling an air tanker
C.J. Keene
Hattervig explains the function of fueling an air tanker

The use of air tankers can be a game changer in a wildfire situation, but it’s also an entire specialization within the firefighting field that takes additional training.

That’s why Black Hills fire and wildlife leaders met at the Rapid City Regional Airport to take stock of their assets.

The training was led by Jarrod Hattervig, the air tanker base manager.

“In the early phases of a fire, that’s really where the whole air tanker operation comes in," Hattervig said. "So, having that capability quickly is really important for the firefighters on the ground, if they can get that air support – especially if its in a remote location – it’s a huge tool just to help. It doesn’t put out the fire necessarily, but the ability to get in there and have something to work off.”

He said air support is no small feat for an agency.

“There’s so many support roles in fire, the behind-the-scenes is huge," Hattervig said. "There’s so many roles in aviation and dispatch, and then firefighters on the ground of course. It’s a pretty big, complex network of what’s going on.”

With proper training, these roles can get a fully loaded tanker in the air and going to a scene in mere minutes.

“Our whole job here is to support whatever the fire needs, so we want to accommodate them as quickly and as efficiently as possible," Hattervig said. "We do it pretty fast, I think sometimes with the larger air tankers people assume it’s going to take a really long time to get them serviced and loaded and back out, but we can get them in and out of here pretty quickly and on their way to a fire.”

Hattervig said if additional support is necessary, more aircraft can be in the Black Hills within two hours of a call being put out.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture