A night fire suppression helicopter will return to Ballarat this summer with a larger capacity to fight fires.
The announcement of phase two of the Victorian-led night fire suppression trial in Ballarat follows the success of a trial last summer which proved night time firefighting from a helicopter could be done safely.
The aircraft to be based Ballarat Airport will be doubled in size – from 1500L capacity to almost 4000L.
It will have the potential to respond to fire at any area across the state, unlike last summer when the trial allowed flying at night but not night fire suppression.
Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said the upgraded fleet to be deployed around Victoria would be an ‘invaluable asset’.
“The use of these nighttime firefighting assets will continue to be explored this year,” he said.
We still have a lot to learn and the first consideration will always be safety of our pilots, ground crews and community.Andrew Crisp, Emergency Management Commissioner
“If the helicopter has been working on the fire during the day, a decision will be made as to whether there would be value continuing the helicopter working with ground crews on the fire into the evening.”
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The Ballarat based helicopter is one of two aircraft, two air tankers and two air cranes forming part of the suite of 49 aircraft which can be deployed during disasters this summer.
The second aircraft with the capacity to fight fires at night will be based at Mangalore.
Mr Crisp said safety considerations remained key to the second phase of the night fire suppression trial.
"Remembering that we have not used night vision goggles or enabled aircraft on uncontrolled fires yet in Victoria, we still have a lot to learn and the first consideration will always be safety of our pilots, ground crews and community," he said.
“It is not intended that this make a significant difference this summer. We are talking about only two helicopters and an ongoing trial using this type of technology. But that is not to say these two helicopters might make a significant difference to certain fires.”
To be dispatched at night the helicopter must have been working at the fire scene during the day to understand the risks of the area like powerlines, terrain and water sources.
If phase two of the trial is successful Mr Crisp said deploying more helicopters to fight fires at night would be considered.