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San Diego To Get New Firehawk Helicopter To Fight Future Wildfires

A digital rendering of the S-70i version of the Firehawk.

Credit: City of San Diego

Above: A digital rendering of the S-70i version of the Firehawk.

The City Council voted unanimously this week to spend $19.8 million to buy a firefighting helicopter, which will increase the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department's aerial fleet from two to three.

“As wildfires continue to ravage our state, we must do everything in our power to make sure the San Diego region is as prepared as possible for the next major fire,” said Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer in a statement.

“We must continue to ensure our firefighters have the most advanced tools at their disposal to keep San Diegans safe. This new Firehawk helicopter is going to take our aerial firefighting capabilities to the next level.”

The Sikorsky S-70i will fly faster and carry more than twice the payload of water or retardant than the SDFRD's current choppers, which were built by Bell in 1980 and 2008, Chief Brian Fennessy said. He told the council members that the condition of the older craft is concerning.

"It has been showing signs of that age," Fennessy said. "It's out of service more and more every year."

RELATED: What You Need To Know In The Event Of A Wildfire In San Diego County

Because of maintenance down time and the need for inspections, purchasing a new helicopter means that two choppers will be available at all times, which is not the case now, he said.

"We need larger, more capable aircraft to drop more product," Fennessy said.

The Sikorsky helicopter is also big enough to pull firefighting crews out of areas that become dangerous, he said. Cal Fire is planning to buy a dozen of them, according to the chief.

The existing helicopters were both used extensively last week to fight the Lilac Fire near Bonsall, particularly during the nighttime hours.

The council separately approved using bond revenues to fund a $13.7 million hangar for its helicopters that will include living and office space. The facility will be built at Montgomery-Gibbs Executive Airport.


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