Thank you for your interest in the Wenatchee Valley Airbase. The airbase is a conglomerate of two programs, the Wenatchee Valley Rappellers and the Wenatchee Short-Haul. We are a wildfire initial attack and large fire support crew. We employ 37 people with one base manager, three assistant base managers, four assistant helicopter managers, six lead crew members, twelve senior rappellers, and various GS-4 and GS-5 temporary seasonal firefighters. There are four exclusive use helicopters located at the airbase. The rappel crew utilizes a Bell 205 A++ helicopter as a rappel platform regionally and nationally. The short-haul program utilizes an A-Star B3 and is deployed locally, regionally and nationally. Our third helicopter is an Bell 407 and is utilized primarily as a forest resource. The fourth helicopter is a Sikorsky SH-3H (S-61) utilized nationally. Recent fire seasons have taken us to New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, California, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Texas and Alaska. The crew averages 40+ rappel fires a year.
What is Rappelling?
Helicopter rappelling is a fast and effective way to deliver initial attack firefighters into remote areas on National Forest Service lands. Once dispatched, a helicopter and crew will fly to the location of a wildland fire. At the scene of the fire, it is determined whether there is a suitable place to land nearby or if it will be necessary to deliver firefighters by rappelling. Once a decision is made to insert rappellers, the rappel spotter and pilot determine an acceptable location to conduct rappel operations. For the rappel, the helicopter is set up in a hover over the intended spot and the rappellers slide down ropes (up to 300 feet) with the help of a descent device.
On the ground, rappellers fight fire like any other initial attack firefighter; building handline, cutting saw line, and felling trees. Most of the fires are small, lightning-caused fires that require two to four firefighters several days to put out. The crews are prepared to stay out for multiple nights, carrying everything needed such as food, water and shelter for the initial 36 hours. Once the fire is declared "out", the firefighters pack up their gear and hike out. The hike is typically from a wilderness or roadless area and is often over rough terrain, averaging two to five miles to the nearest pick-up point. Each firefighter's pack is a bulky 90-120 pounds of rappel gear (rope, harness, flight helmet, etc.), initial attack gear (handtools, chainsaw, line pack, etc.) as well as food, water and overnight supplies.
What is Short-Haul?
Short-haul is a method of inserting or extracting personnel by helicopter from an unaccessible location. It is used where other methods of insertion or extraction are not feasible or not available, such as in heavily timbered areas, steep slopes or roadless terrain where landing an aircraft is not possible. Personnel who are being inserted or extracted are attached to the helicopter by a rope, the length of which can vary but is typically greater than 150’. The purpose of emergency medical short-haul is to facilitate rapid and effective access to medical care in the field for critically injured or ill employees, as well as extraction of patients for transport to definitive medical care. Forest Service short haul crews will carry emergency medical technicians, or EMT's. These personnel will be trained and equipped to provide Basic Life Support, with the primary goal of patient stabilization and transport. Forest Service short-haul helicopters will not be equipped to provide Advanced Life Support (ALS); the goal of the Forest Service Emergency Medical short-haul mission is to facilitate the delivery of a patient to ALS as rapidly as possible.
Click to the right to learn more about the Wenatchee Short-Haul Program.