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SDFD Rolls Out New $20 Million Firefighting Helicopter

Matt Hoffman
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and members of the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department stand in front of a new helicopter, Dec. 12, 2019.

The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department unveiled a new military-style helicopter Thursday that officials say brings firefighting in the region to another level.

"We are bolstering our aerial firefighting capabilities with a state of the art helicopter," San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said during a morning news conference.

SDFD Rolls Out New $20 Million Firefighting Helicopter
Listen to this story by Matt Hoffman.

With a price tag of $20 million, the "Firehawk" is the first addition to the department's fleet since 2007. It can hold 1,000 gallons of water, which is three times more than older ones in the fleet and has a retractable pump that can fill the tank in 60 seconds.

"We’ve been looking forward to this day for so long and really welcoming this extraordinary helicopter for the fleet," San Diego Fire-Rescue Chief Colin Stowell said.

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The city is planning on adding another Firehawk to the fleet in the next few years.

"We really felt with the fire seasons the way they’ve been getting worse and worse that we need a little bit bigger tool," SDFD chief of air operations Chuck Macfarland said. "When we look at the amount of work it can do, it’s very efficient."


It is also much faster than the city’s older helicopters. It can race between fires at a speed of 140 knots, which is around 160 miles per hour. The crew consists of a pilot, crew chief and a rescue medic. Teams will be on standby 24/7.

"In any of our canyon fires — it’s a fast initial attack," Macfarland said. "Our goal up and down the state is to keep 90% of fires at 10 acres or less."

When needed, the helicopter can be used across the county and even up into Orange County for mutual aid calls, officials said.

San Diego Fire-Rescue Unveils New Fire Fighting Helicopter