“The helicopters and the firefighters kept trying to put out the fire but the fire was too big. Eventually that fire burned down the hill and destroyed some homes,” said Mark Whaling, inventor of the Heli-Hydrant, in an interview with the Matador Messenger. “What if we had a way for the helicopters to get the water from these large tanks? What if they could get the water themselves rather than have a crew on the ground helping them?” he explained.
Whaling, a former Fire Captain with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, has a solution. It’s a new invention, a fire hydrant for helicopters. The “Heli-Hydrant,” as Whaling and his wife Kathryn Whaling, CEO of their firefighting equipment company Whaling Fire, call it, is a remotely activated snorkel site.
It provides helicopters easy access to water during a wildfire. With the push of a button, a helicopter pilot can tell the Heli-Hydrant to fill up its 2,700-gallon tank in three minutes, according to the OC Register. The pilot can then fill up his own 500-gallon tank using the Heli-Hydrant and travel to fight the fire.
Yorba Linda now has its own Heli-Hydrant, located near Green Crest Drive, an area that has burned before, as recently as 2008. Before the Heli-Hydrant was invented, “…helicopters had to travel to the nearest lake or large body of water,” described Pasquale Talarico, Director of Public Affairs for the Yorba Linda Water District, in an interview with the Matador Messenger. Previously, they used water from lakes in Yorba Linda, Brea, and even as far as Irvine, which is over 20 miles away.
The other option was to have the helicopter land and a crew of firefighters fill its tank with a fire hose from a fire hydrant or water truck. According to Talarico, from the Yorba Linda Water District, “[the Heli-Hydrant] will reduce the time it takes the helicopter pilot to refill their water tank, which should allow them to make more water drops on the fire and at a faster pace. It puts the water refill points closer to the homes they are working to protect.”
Mark and Kathryn Whaling noted that they encountered some challenges while designing and building the Heli-Hydrant. “The Heli-Hydrant has to meet the same standards as all other parts of the municipal water systems and be compatible with all the other components,” they explained. Because of this, Whaling Fire had to learn about water systems. They also said that “while this is a firefighting tank, it is built by water companies and not fire departments.” Whaling Fire had to convince the water company to build the Heli-Hydrant.
The Heli-Hydrant in Yorba Linda is the first permanent Heli-Hydrant ever installed, at a cost of about $50,000, according to the OC Register. Talarico stated that the Yorba Linda Water District has “sited 2-3 additional locations identified as possible future sites.” As Davis Doty, Fire Captain with the Orange County Fire Authority told the Matador Messenger, “Being able to put water on the fire quickly allows firefighters to keep fires small and increase our ability of protecting life, property and the environment,” he added.