A Likely Story - No Worries, We Got This
This time I was ready. As the S-64 Sikorsky helicopter swooped in for a hot landing, I had the fuel hose draped over my shoulder, ready to sprint forward the moment the wheels were chocked. Silently reviewing the checklist, I thought about coveralls. Gloves. Helmet. Ear protection. Goggles…..wait, what? Goggles? And of course, it was too late. As the six rotor blades of the 10,000 horsepower helicopter threw a storm of dust and debris in my face at point-blank range, I rushed forward, only to blindly trip over my own feet.
Almost instantly, I heard one of the mechanics yell, “No worries, RC, we got this!”, and felt a hundred pounds of hose leave my shoulder. Turning back towards my tanker, I was able to grab the handheld deadman device, and within seconds initiate the fueling process right on time. Just ten minutes later, my goggles firmly in place, the 30-million-dollar firefighting air crane lifted off, following a one-thousand-gallon gas-and-dash.
This is my second year providing seasonal ground support for an aerial firefighting company and would describe it as I would trucking in general. That is, hours and hours of tedious boredom, punctuated by occasional moments of holy terror. It’s one thing to drive the mountain roads of Oregon, or the six lanes of southbound interstate 405 into LA, but it’s way different with 6,000 gallons of Jet-A fuel strapped to my back.
The truck I drove to Van Nuys airport, just north of the City Of Angels, is a 2014 Kenworth T-800 with 4,000 actual miles on the odometer. When it leaves Los Angeles County in December, it may have 4,005. Or not. Whatever it has, only a CDL-A can put those miles there, and I’m the only one on a crew of eight with that designation. It’s a small thing, in the bigger scheme of things, but no one can dispute how vital it is.
Aerial firefighters serve a unique function, in a dangerous environment, with a single-minded purpose: to save lives and protect property. There’s no way to minimize their contributions or quantify the sacrifices. They are the best at what they do, and what I get to do is support their efforts. Then they in turn support mine, even when my goggles are a hundred feet from my face.
In the small community of pilots, crew chiefs, mechanics, and forest service managers, everyone has the same mindset. NO WORRIES, WE GOT THIS. Whether it’s running for cover, or just running errands, everyone is looking out for everyone else. No one is more important than anyone else, and no one thinks they know it all, even though crew chiefs DO know it all.
Dragging a loaded fuel hose across wet grass at a mountaintop airstrip is no easy task, and that’s mine, but there’s always a member of the crew willing to step up without hesitation. When a pump breaks down, a filter clogs up, or a valve jams shut, I get really nervous, really quick. When I get caught with my hopelessly inadequate computer skills on full display, I get very frustrated, very fast. But then I hear those words of assurance, NO WORRIES, RC, WE GOT THIS, and the earth quickly regains its original balance.
Oh, there’s a price to pay, don’t ya all worry about that. I have to save room at the breakfast table, drive the crew car, and occasionally pay the stamp tax on unfiltered Lucky Strikes for the Pilot In Command. But I can say with certitude it’s the best 59 cents I’ve ever spent!