Water-bombing helicopter on call at Shepparton Airport

By Laura Briggs

The Goulburn Valley is fire ready with a water bombing helicopter on call for the hot summer ahead.

A Kestrel Aviations helicopter — a Bell 212 — landed at the Shepparton airport last month ahead of a 100-day contract.

Helicopter pilot Tom (surname withheld) is one of the few pilots who will rotate through operating the aircraft during the summer, along with a refueller capable of providing fuel for up to 10 hours of flying.

The 17.4m helicopter with a 14.6m rotor diameter has the capacity to hold 1500 litres of water.

Tom said when making the quick preparations to attend a fire, the hydraulic driven system was able to fill the water bombing tank in less than 20 seconds.

He said the prompt response when being called to a fire was necessary in assisting the CFA to keep fires from getting out of control before crews were able to attend.

‘‘Most of the time, we’ll be first on scene and the idea of that is to get water on a small fire before it turns into a big fire,’’ he said.

Tom said the water bomber was refilled using water from nearby lakes, rivers and dams and when fully fuelled the aircraft would run for about two hours.

In his first weeks spent on call in Shepparton, Tom had already attended a number of fires in the lead-up to this month.

‘‘We’ve had fairly low fire indexes for the last couple of weeks since being here — and have only been called out a couple of times. But when it starts heating up, it is likely to be much busier,’’ he said.

Tom encouraged people to take all precautions and be aware of dangers ahead of the fire season.