Office workers train to help with aerial firefighting efforts


The peak of fire season is in August, and as it gets closer to that dangerous time, crews are preparing to fight from all angles.

Friday a group gathered in Salem at McNary Field to learn how to help in the fight from above, practicing with a pair of single-engine air tankers. While it may be small, the tanker plays a big role in the fight against Oregon wildfires.

During Friday’s practice, it was all hands on deck as office workers at the Oregon Department of Forestry joined the fight, learning how to load the tankers with water and retardant.

The goal of the exercise was to improve the staff’s speed, efficiency and familiarity with the systems.

"Anytime we can reduce the amount of flight time to get to the fire and put it out, the better off we are," ODF Fire Aviation Coordinator Neal Laugle said. “The biggest thing is to be able to be familiar with the aircraft, especially the noise and the heat when it comes in and you're loading it."

Even though the office workers are miles away from the front lines and Friday’s drop was merely a practice, the staff at the ODF is grateful for the hands-on opportunity

"Just the ability to help out whenever it's necessary,” administrative specialist Whitney Lanham said. “Whether I'm ever going to be utilized this summer isn't the point. Just the fact that they know I'm available to help makes me feel good.”

The Oregon Department of Forestry has five single-engine air tankers, and they are typically staged on the east side of the Cascades, or in southern Oregon. The training Friday will help ensure that the tankers are ready to go in western Oregon as well.

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