Forest Service Suspends Controlled Burns Over Coronavirus

A charred landscape is left by a wildfire dubbed the Cave Fire, burning in the hills of Santa Barbara, California, U.S., November 26, 2019. REUTERS/David McNew/

The U.S. Forest Service has suspended controlled burns on public lands in wildfire-prone California because of the coronavirus pandemic, upsetting officials who see the program as key to preventing seasonal infernos like those that devastated parts of the state in 2018.

The decision comes as forecasters predict yet another above-average year for wildfires in parts of the state because of dry conditions, and follows President Donald Trump’s repeated criticism of California’s own forest management work following the 2018 fires.

“Safety of the public and our wildland fire responders is priority number one,” said Jonathan Groveman, a spokesman for the Forest Service in California, whose office suspended controlled burns at the end of March.

He did not say when the work would resume. The Forest Service controls about 60 percent of California’s 33 million acres of forests.

John Giller, fire director for the U.S. Forest Service region in Washington and Oregon, confirmed controlled burns were suspended in those states as well, and said the agency’s “focus this spring is on the immediate decisions we can make to help communities face this pandemic.”

Suspending the work allows Forest Service employees to stay home to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and ensures that smoke from controlled burns does not make people in nearby communities more vulnerable to the symptoms of the deadly respiratory illness, said Kaari Carpenter, a Forest Service spokeswoman in Washington.

Decisions about whether to suspend burns are at the discretion of regional offices, the USFS said.

California officials said they disagreed with the decisions and were continuing their own forest management work on state lands through the pandemic.

“I have no understanding as to why they made that decision,” said Thom Porter, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire. “We’re very much in support of continuing our fuel-management projects. We see those as critical to protecting lives and property.”

In 2018, the state experienced its deadliest and most destructive fire season ever as 1.67 million acres burned, killing dozens of people.

Trump has since repeatedly blamed California’s fires on the state’s supposed mishandling of its forests. In 2018, Trump also signed an executive order to speed projects to reduce “hazardous fuels” on federal lands through forest thinning, burning and timber sales.

The U.S. Forest Service treated some 223,000 acres in California last year using prescribed fires and other methods, according to spokesman Nathan Judy.

Cal Fire is planning to burn about 25,000 acres this year on state and private lands, similar to what it did in 2019. It wants to more than double that amount in the next six years, Porter said.

Source: Reuters News Service

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LAPD Officers will Isolate at Biltmore Hotel

Scores of Los Angeles police officers who have symptoms related to the coronavirus or who must quarantine because of possible exposure have the choice of self-isolating at home or moving into the Biltmore Hotel in downtown L.A., according to two law enforcement sources.

The officers will be housed on at least two floors of the iconic Pershing Square hotel, a move the LAPD has kept under wraps from the public, the sources said. The accommodations are not being covered with taxpayer funds but are paid for by the Los Angeles Police Foundation, a nonprofit independent group that buys police equipment and offers other support to the LAPD.

Staff of another city agency, the Los Angeles Fire Department, will self-isolate or quarantine in fire station community rooms, which are used mainly as classrooms, according to Capt. Branden Silverman. The ad-hoc facilities, which are in separate buildings from the stations, are equipped with bathrooms and showers and have been furnished with cots, although Silverman said nearly all of the LAFD staff have been able to self-isolate at home.

“We’re preparing for a huge influx of department members becoming ill,” Silverman said. “We definitely needed to have that logistical setup ready, but we have not been as impacted as the East Coast fire departments.”

Josh Rubenstein, a spokesman for the LAPD, asked The Times not to publish the location of the hotel, citing officer security concerns.

The LAPD was trying to make its officers’ presence at the Biltmore as low key as possible, sources said. One source said that although the hotel has a reputation for luxury, that was not the primary reason for its use.

Rubenstein said the hotel was selected for its central location and relationship with the department.

“It fits the bill for what we need for our officers,” Rubenstein said. He referred questions about the cost of the rooms to the Police Foundation.

Rooms at the Biltmore typically run about $180 and up per night, plus taxes. The hotel has advertised a special discount for government employees, $120 per night. It’s unclear what the hotel was charging.

LAPD Chief Michel Moore announced the hotel accommodations in a video message to staff on April 9, although he did not identify the Biltmore by name.

“The dangers you face in coming to work while others are staying at home are not lost on me,” Moore said in the video.

Moore said that as part of the plans to keep LAPD officers safe, he worked with leaders from the officers’ union, the Los Angeles Police Protective League, to identify a suitable hotel in downtown L.A. The hotel was to be used by those who test positive, who are starting to experience flu-like symptoms, or who are awaiting test results or otherwise must go into isolation based on possible exposure.

“This rest and isolation center has been made possible by a generous donation from the Police Foundation, and hotel accommodations will be provided at no cost to you. Our first preference is for you to stay at home. However, I recognize that may cause you even more stress and the potential risk to those you love. So these accommodations are for you,” the police chief said.

In the video message, Moore said the LAPD learned of its first positive COVID-19 case on March 15. A week later, he said, it had grown grew to three cases.

Now, more than 400 employees have been tested.

As of Wednesday, 57 LAPD employees had tested positive for the coronavirus, with 17 recovering and returning to work.

One individual was hospitalized.

The rest were self-isolating, officials said.

Source: Los Angeles Times

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Late Night Blaze Destroys North Hollywood Dollar Store

Late into the night, a North Hollywood business erupted in flames, destroying the building.


At 1:01AM on April 16, 2020, the Los Angeles Fire Department responded to a reported structure fire in the 12000 block of W Victory Blvd in North Hollywood.  The first arriving fire companies found a large, one, story commercial building with fire showing.

An immediate offensive operation ensued; fire attack worked to make entry into the building while the truck company headed to the roof for vertical ventilation.  However, approximately 10 minutes into the incident, the lack of progress towards the seat of the fire and concern for the structural integrity of the structure caused the incident commander to order the transition to the defensive mode.

With all crews out of the building and off the roof, master streams were put into place. Ladder pipes and large hand lines poured copious amounts of water into the fire from the exterior. While the bulk of the fire was extinguished approximately one hour into the incident, difficult to reach pockets of fire remained and continued to flare up.

The 8,111 square foot building, built in 1957, was doing business as Dollar Deluxe, a ‘dollar store’ and had a significant fire load (amount of contents inside the structure). This environment presented challenges to the firefighters as they worked to safely reach the seat of the fire.

The bulk of the flames were extinguished by about 2:10 a.m., but a knockdown was not declared because pockets of fire continued to flare up due to the large number of items inside the Dollar Deluxe store, LAFD Capt. Cory Weireter said.

Nearly 100 firefighters, under the command of Assistant Chief Corey Rose, battled through the night. At 3:06AM (two hours and four minutes into the incident), the incident clock was turned off and firefighters continued working to address the remaining hot spots. 

LAFD Arson and Counter-Terrorism section responded, per protocol for a fire of this size, to conduct the cause investigation and it remains an active investigation.  No injuries were reported.

The commercial space east of North Hollywood’s Valley Plaza is known for its 1970s and ’80s tenants. Clothing retailer the Gap and record store Licorice Pizza shared the space during that time.

Area: FS 89; Batt 14; Valley Bureau; Council District 2

LAFD Resources: AR11 AR2 BC1 BC10 BC12 BC14 CM42 E102 E203 E239 E260 E278 E287 E289 E298 E3 E39 E60 E86 E88 E89 EA1 EM14 HE1 HR3 PI3 RA60 RA860 RA889 RA89 SQ87 T3 T39 T60 T78 T87 T89 T98 UR3 UR88

Frequencies: LAFD Ch8, LAFD Tac12, LAFD Tac13

Source: LAFD Spokesperson Margaret Stewart, and City News Service. Photo Credits: Photo by Chris Eckenrode

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Will SmartPhones Replace Public Safety Radios? FirstNet Push-to-Talk Just Might Make That Happen

FirstNet Push-to-Talk (PTT) service, provided by AT&T, delivers the performance that public safety needs and can be an LMR alternative for some agencies, according to the captain of a New Jersey police department that conducted a beta trial of the new offering.

“I think it’s really going to be a game-changer for public-safety communications,” Capt. Guy Patterson of the Cranford (N.J.) police department said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications.

“I absolutely see [FirstNet PTT] as a replacement, especially as this current generation of Land Mobile Radio (LMR) inevitably advances to whatever the next generation is. When it’s time to make that move, and you have to do a very large capital project to update your infrastructure and everything else, it makes perfect sense just to abandon the LMR completely and go with the FirstNet Push to Talk.”

Cranford police trialed FirstNet PTT service using FirstNet Ready Samsung Galaxy XCover FieldPro devices for almost three months at the end of 2019 and during the early portion of this year. Cranford police has used AT&T carrier-integrated PTT and currently subscribes to Enhanced Push to Talk (EPTT)—both leveraging Kodiak technology owned by Motorola Solutions—but personnel were especially impressed with the new FirstNet PTT, according to Patterson.

“All of them have been useful, but with the latest version [FirstNet PTT], the clarity and the speed is noticeably improved,” he said.

“The voice quality on [FirstNet PTT] is probably better than LMR—it really is. It was crystal clear. Almost universally, of the detectives and officers that tested it, they all noticed it and said that … They were almost surprised that it was the same system—only advanced—as the Enhanced Push to Talk.”

For years, industry experts have said they expected MCPTT-compliant services could provide better on-network voice quality than LMR, because higher-level codecs can be used, thanks to the closer proximity of LTE devices to cell sites and the fact that LTE makes much more bandwidth available than a narrowband LMR system.

Meeting the public-safety standard for latency was expected to be much more challenging for MCPTT providers, but FirstNet PTT “absolutely” met Cranford’s public-safety standard for latency, Patterson said.

Patterson also emphasized the “ease of use” of FirstNet PTT, citing a hypothetical example of detectives conducting surveillance.

“Say there are six of them watching a location from six different areas and six different vantage points, they can create their own talk group, right there on scene,” Patterson said. “They’re doing it right through their phones, and it’s secure—it’s encrypted, so no one else can listen. That’s a big thing.

Establishing talk groups quickly is not a unique capability in the push-to-talk-over-cellular (PoC) arena, but getting this functionality with the security, reliability and support that come with FirstNet is different, Patterson said.

“There are a lot of applications out there [on] smartphones … where those [features] are available—you can set up your own talk groups very quickly, and you can set up your own chat groups very quickly—but they’re not encrypted, it’s not secured, it’s not backed up, and it’s not supported. If it goes down with whatever your individual carrier is, or if there’s a malfunction on the site, there’s no support.

“Whereas, with FirstNet Push to Talk, you have all of that. You have the encryption. You have the support. You have the backend. You have everything you need to make sure that, when you need it, it’s going to work.”

Getting FirstNet PTT into the hands of first responders—as Cranford was able to do during its beta trial—is critical to gaining public-safety acceptance of the technology, Patterson said.

“That’s the big hurdle with the new technology coming into the first-responder realm and especially the law-enforcement realm—people get very comfortable with what they know,” Patterson said. “So, when you tell them, ‘I’m taking away your radio, but I’m going to give you a basically cell phone that works like a radio,’ they become nervous.

“You have to show them that this is going to work as well—if not better—[than LMR] … It’s one of those things where you can tell them all you want, but first responders are a ‘Show me’ population, where they want to see it, they want to touch it, they want to know it works, and they want you to prove to them that it works. I think FirstNet’s worked very hard at that, and they’ve done a good job doing that.”

Initially, FirstNet PTT is only available to FirstNet subscribers that use the new Samsung Galaxy XCover FieldPro, a rugged LTE smartphone optimized to support MCPTT. Members of the Cranford police department trialing FirstNet PTT applauded the device.

“We actually wished we could have kept all of those Samsung XCover Field Pros—we liked them quite a bit,” Patterson said. “Most of our specialized people and our detectives have the Galaxy S9s, and when we put these Field Pros in their hands, they were like, ‘When are we getting these? When can we trade in?’ I said, ‘Relax. I don’t even think that these are on the market yet. You’re not getting them.’

“But everybody really liked them. The Sonim XP8s, those are great rugged phones, but they’re like carrying a brick … you carry enough equipment, and they’re pretty big. Whereas the FieldPro was really the perfect blend of being similar to radio operations—it has the push-to-talk button on the side, and the controls are pretty easy—but it still has the feel, the size and the weight of a typical smartphone.”

Cranford police department trialed FirstNet PTT before the Samsung Galaxy XCover FieldPro was launched commercially, so there were not a lot of available accessories to use with the device, Patterson said. Despite the limited choice, the accessories provided met the important criteria of not requiring users to alter their existing operations, he said.

“The accessories that they had were exactly what we’re using in the field now for the Motorola LMR radios, where they had wireless shoulder mics and things along those lines, which would be exactly what we’re used to using now,” Patterson said. “And it’s similar technology, in that it’s seamless, it’s connected, it’s secure.

“When cellular bypasses LMR and becomes the norm in public safety, the only thing that’s changing is the network that you’re working off of.”

Cranford police did not conduct any testing of the MCPTT off-network or direct-mode communications, such as LTE proximity services (ProSe), Patterson said. However, it is rare for personnel in Cranford—located 18 miles west of New York City—to be outside cellular coverage.

“Being where we’re located, our cellular coverage is pretty good, so we don’t really run into many—if any—network issues, other than in large buildings where there just isn’t a lot of cell signal inside, no matter what,” Patterson said. “And that’s a problem with LMR equally. I would actually think that the cellular is probably better than the LMR in those [in-building] situations, just because you typically have a cell antenna closer to that building than you would a repeater or whatever else you’re working off of on LMR.”

Patterson also noted that using an LTE device provides the option of communicating via Wi-Fi when inside facilities—an arrangement the Cranford police department has with several institutions and owners of large buildings—that is not possible with their LMR devices.

Cranford police recently migrated its LMR communications from its own radio system to a statewide P25 Phase 2 owned by the state police, and the 25% of the Cranford police officers that utilize EPTT are able to interoperate with LMR users in the same talk groups, Patterson said. Such LTE-LMR interoperability is expected to be supported with FirstNet PTT in the future, but no timeline for introducing this functionality has been introduced yet by AT&T or the FirstNet Authority.

“I think that’s an important thing for most people with [FirstNet PTT], especially when they’re using both FirstNet and LMR, to have them be able to interop,” Patterson said, noting that there also was no ability for FirstNet PTT users to interoperate with EPTT users during the Cranford trial.

Such a lack of interoperability was among the reasons that the Cranford police department is continuing to use EPTT instead of the new FirstNet PTT, according to Patterson.

“We’re really congested in New Jersey, and we have a lot of overlapping jurisdictions—you’d need to have almost a regional buy into it, so that the communication [between jurisdictions] can continue,” Patterson said. “In New Jersey, we’re not there. We have neighboring towns that do use FirstNet, just like we do, but it’s a supplement to our LMR, not a replacement just yet.”

Another issue is that FirstNet PTT currently is available only to those using the Samsung Galaxy XCover FieldPro, which is priced as a high-end LTE device.

“We don’t have those devices, so we’re sticking with Enhanced Push to Talk for right now,” Patterson said.

When asked if the Cranford police department would switch to FirstNet PTT, if money for the Samsung Galaxy XCover FieldPro devices were available, Patterson said, “Oh sure—absolutely.”

One way Cranford police could get the funding needed to provide FirstNet PTT would be to abandon LMR entirely, Patterson said.

“For us currently, with an upgraded LMR system, it’s definitely a supplement—and it’s not a supplement for all officers, it’s a supplement for officers in certain assignments, with our budget,” Patterson said. “But absent our LMR costs, it’s absolutely affordable; it’s absolutely something that could fit into our budget.”

Until then, paying for both FirstNet PTT and LMR is not financially realistic, Patterson said.

“It’s a luxury,” Patterson said. “And unfortunately, a lot of budgets don’t have that luxury.

“That’s the challenge now. I think, as it [FirstNet PTT] becomes more universally utilized, the LMR portion is not going to be competing with that, whereas now, it is—especially where we operate here.”

But migrating from LMR to FirstNet PTT soon will be the best option for public-safety agencies in the right situations, according to Patterson.

“It makes complete sense. It really does,” Patterson said. “Again, the biggest hurdle that I see right now is merely the amount of first responders using it, so that interoperability is there.

“That’s the only hurdle. I think, over time as this goes, it’s just going to build and build and build, and eventually, that hurdle’s not going to be there.”

Source: Donny Jackson, Urgent Communications. Photo Credit: Samsung.

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Hytera Requests New Trial, Motorola Solutions Seeks Permanent Injunction in Federal-Court Case

Hytera Communications is asking for a new trial and a drastic reduction in a $764.6 million judgment against it, while Motorola Solutions seeks a permanent injunction prohibiting Hytera from selling much of its portfolio of DMR portable radios, according to filings in the lengthy trial between the companies.

Attorneys for both LMR companies are scheduled to make presentations Friday before U.S. District Court Judge Charles Norgle of the Northern District of Illinois, but the messages will be very different, based on documents filed with the court last week.

Hytera is requesting a new trial, stating that it was “denied a fair trial” in the three-month proceeding that resulted in a unanimous jury verdict that included an award of $345.8 million in compensatory damages and $418.8 million in punitive damages to Motorola Solutions, which was affirmed by Norgle in early March. The jury determined that Hytera should pay Motorola Solutions for stealing trade secrets and copyrighted software code in developing most of its DMR portable radios.

During the trial, Hytera attorneys acknowledged that three former Motorola [the company had not yet changed its name to Motorola Solutions at the time] employees—Samuel Chia, Y.T. Kok and G.S. Kok—accessed more than 7,000 Motorola documents prior to each of them leaving and joining Hytera shortly in 2008. However, Hytera attorneys described the three engineers as “bad apples” who did not share with anyone else at Hytera that the DMR trade secrets and software were taken from Motorola.

If a new trial is not permitted, Hytera attorneys argue that the award to Motorola—reportedly described by a Hytera attorney as a “bankrupting amount”—should be reduced significantly.

“The jury verdict meets the definition of monstrously excessive, because it exceeds Hytera’s total profits for all products—not just accused products,” according to Hytera’s filing. “Motorola asked the jury to award $345.8 million as a measure of unjust enrichment. This figure purportedly captures all of Hytera’s profits from the accused products. Hytera’s total profits covering the same time period, 2010 to 2019, for all products—not just accused products—is $265 million. This is $80 million less than the unjust enrichment amount Motorola obtained from the jury.

“The fact that the jury awarded more in unjust enrichment than Hytera’s total profits company-wide demonstrates that the verdict is excessive and must be reduced.”

In contrast, Motorola Solutions asks that the financial award that China-based Hytera should pay should be increased by including the profits that Hytera has realized during the time since the trial started, interest and attorney fees.

More important, Motorola is seeking a permanent injunction that would prohibit Hytera, its distributor and dealers from selling, marketing or distributing the DMR portable radios that utilize Motorola Solutions’ trade secrets and copyrighted software worldwide. Issuing a worldwide injunction—as opposed to one that only applies to the U.S.—is an appropriate finding under the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) of 2016.

“Hytera stole Motorola’s trade secrets and copyrighted code and used them to enrich itself from sales of products using that stolen intellectual property around the world,” according to a Motorola Solutions filing. “The DTSA applies ‘outside the United States’ if any ‘act in furtherance of the offense was committed in the United States,’ and the Copyright Act’s predicate act doctrine supports application of that statute to infringing conduct outside the United States.

“Because Hytera’s illegal conduct has continued unabated around the world—and will continue, absent an injunction reaching its sales abroad—a worldwide injunction should issue.”

Hytera attorneys contend that any action taken by the court should be limited to the U.S.

“As Hytera previously explained, Motorola waived any claim to extraterritorial damages under the Copyright Act by repeatedly acknowledging that its damages were limited to Hytera’s U.S. profits, including in the pretrial order and even after resting its case,” according to a filing by Hytera.

Hytera has stated its belief that the injunction request by Motorola Solutions is excessive.

“In effect, Motorola seeks a broad-ranging injunction that would cut Hytera off at its knees—an injunction

that is far in excess of what any equitable principles could support,” according to a Hytera filing.

Under the proposed briefing schedule submitted by both companies—subject to Norgle’s approval—the final briefs in the case would be filed on May 14.

Hytera plans to appeal the case, if the current judgment remains in place, according to a Hytera spokesperson.

Source: Donny Jackson, Urgent Communications.

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Coronavirus Forcing Some Technicians Off US Cell Towers

Cell Tower Photo from Wikipedia

Some tower companies have been forced to pull their work crews off the job due to the ongoing pandemic.

Further, some tower technicians are asking for personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks and face shields to avoid further spreading the COVID-19 virus. They’re also arguing that they should receive hazard pay as they travel to and work on 4G and 5G cell towers.

“We need to get carriers to show support for companies providing services by providing PPE that is needed in this COVID19 environment,” wrote one unnamed tower company executive in a survey commissioned by NATE, a trade association that represents cell tower companies. “Compensation should also be hazard pay in a pandemic and not business as usual.”

NATE said it surveyed 224 member companies with headquarters in 40 different states from Friday, March 27 to Wednesday, April 1, and found that around 50 of those companies reported they pulled at least one tower crew from the field due to the new coronavirus.

“We had to move crews from California to the East Coast,” wrote one unnamed executive. “We had to pull one crew out of our three crews total from the field,” wrote another.

The findings are noteworthy considering most executives in the wireless industry have publicly complained of only delays in receiving permits for cell tower installations or upgrades from cities due to COVID-19.

For example, the head of the Wireless Infrastructure Association, Jonathan Adelstein, told Politico that some tower construction is “grinding to a halt or close” because of a lack of municipal permitting and zoning approvals.

Similarly, T-Mobile’s new CEO Mike Sievert told CNBC that “this crisis might affect permitting” because some cities “are operating at less-than-capacity.”

Indeed, the city of Sandy Springs, Georgia, issued a blanket, indefinite “stop work order” on the installation of all Verizon 5G poles in the city due to the pandemic, according to local reports. Verizon plans to install over 1,000 new poles in the city.

Politico reported that the US Department of Homeland Security declared communications workers essential in a public update late last month. Further, one unnamed GOP Congressional source told the publication that some Senate Republicans had privately worked to include stipulations in the recent coronavirus stimulus package that would have allowed cell tower workers to sidestep some state and local regulatory approvals in their work. That proposal was not included in the final legislation.

US Internet traffic has spiked due to streaming video, videoconferencing and online video games as Americans hunker down at home. According to the FCC, Internet traffic in the US has risen about 20% to 35% on fixed networks and about 10% to 20% on cellular networks in recent weeks.

Source: Mike Dano, Photo Credit: Wikipedia.

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Becker Avionics Changes the Way Pilots Monitor Radio with 3D Audio

Becker Avionics has brought a new intercom system to the market that makes it easier for pilots to listen to multiple radios at once using 3D audio. The system, AMU6500, is parallel to the company’s DVCS6100 intercom system with 3D audio incorporated.

The AMU6500, which is compatible on both fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, can operate four radios per unit; up to three AMUs can be installed in an aircraft, allowing for pilots to operate up to 12 transceivers and 12 receivers. When 3D audio is activated on the system, pilots can have multiple radios on, yet still be able to focus on one radio frequency at a time.

“The advantage of 3D audio is you can have multiple radios running and your brain will split them,” said Lee Benson, senior consultant for Becker Avionics. “If you want to listen to the left radio, you listen to the left radio and the right radio goes away, and vice versa.”

The 3D audio feature relies mainly on the human brain’s ability listen to a particular conversation in one direction, and tune out all other sounds coming from other directions. For example, on an air medical flight, the patient’s headset can be set to 12 o’clock, allowing the flight nurse sitting in front of them to listen to them more attentively. Then, if hospital calls come through at the same time, those radio frequencies will sound as though they are coming from a different direction. The flight nurse can then choose which radio they would like to focus on.

“I used to be the chief pilot for LA County Fire,” said Benson. “You’d have two or three radios running at the same time, and you’d be turning volumes up and down and shutting them off. You’re just constantly working, trying to keep up with the communications. With the AMU, you just leave all the volumes where they’re at.”

David Oglesbee of Becker said the 3D audio system takes about 30 minutes to get used to, “and you have it 100 percent figured out.” The box will have the future capability to split between the pilot and copilot, allowing each one to listen to their own radio frequencies from one unit.

The box was also designed to be tactile for pilots when in use, so they can feel the clicks of the knobs as they turn them, or the buttons as they push them. This is to ensure pilots “don’t accidentally hit buttons while flying 100 knots,” Oglesbee said.

The company believes the AMU6500 will be most beneficial for operators that need the capabilities of an intercom system, but don’t have the budget for a more expensive unit. The system will also benefit law enforcement operators and private operators of light-to-medium aircraft like the Bell 505, Oglesbee said.

The AMU6500 has been in development for roughly six years, and many agencies have now procured or are in the process of procuring the system.

The system is night vision goggle compatible out of the box, and Bluetooth compatible. “Bluetooth is important because a lot of agencies are now carrying Bluetooth-enabled headsets,” said Benson. “So, if a police officer has his own special frequency, he can tie into the [AMU] system.”

Oglesbee said the AMU6500 is priced for the market; the company wanted to keep the price of the system competitive while still offering the capabilities that operators need.


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LACOFD Firehawk unit receives HAI’s Salute to Excellence Humanitarian Service Award

Helicopter Association International (HAI) has announced that the Los Angeles County (California) Fire Department Air Operations (LACOFD) Sikorsky S-70 Firehawk helicopter teams are the 2020 recipients of the Salute to Excellence Humanitarian Service Award. The award honors the person or persons who best demonstrate the value of helicopters to the communities in which they operate by providing aid to those in need. The award will be presented Jan. 29 at HAI’s Salute to Excellence Awards luncheon at HAI Heli-Expo 2020 in Anaheim, California.

As wildfires once again burn throughout Southern California in 2019, this award recognizes the efforts made by the flight and ground crews of the four S-70 Firehawk helicopters while battling the 2018 Woolsey Fire, the largest wildfire on record in Los Angeles County. The fire destroyed nearly 97,000 acres, with 1,643  homes lost and more than 295,000  people evacuated at its peak.

The Woolsey Fire began midafternoon on Nov. 8, 2018, just outside of Simi Valley near the borders of Ventura County, Los Angeles County, and the City of Los Angeles. The four S-70s joined multiple other aircraft and ground crews battling the conflagration over the next four days. While the flight and ground crews rotated as necessary, the helicopters themselves were shut down only for refueling and inspection. This resulted in the four LACFDAO helicopters totaling 119.4 flight hours in  the first three days — equivalent to almost an entire month’s worth of flying and maintenance in one week — completing more than 350 water drops amid winds ranging from 40 to 70 knots.

Operating on the leeward side of the flames due to high winds, LACOFD helicopters and crews were often the only aircraft working the lines. The winds kept the smoke low across the terrain and homes, forcing the crews to fly and refuel within the smoke as they realized that the only way to attack the fire was to become engulfed in it. Flying conditions quickly became almost nightlike because of the reduced visibility.

In addition to the efforts of the flight crews, the maintenance and support crews worked tirelessly on the ground. Operating in 24-hour shifts, the maintainers kept the aircraft available for every launch, ensuring they were always safe and ready to go. A majority of the 20 people on the maintenance team volunteered into the night and weekend to ensure that routine maintenance was performed efficiently and safely.

The Humanitarian Service Award will be presented at the Salute to Excellence Awards luncheon during HAI Heli-Expo 2020. HAI Heli-Expo, the world’s largest helicopter trade show and exhibition, will be held at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, California, Jan. 27 to 30, with the exhibit hall open Jan. 28 to 30.


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First Engine Broke Down En Route to Woolsey Fire, Sources Say. Blaze Grew at a Terrifying Rate

Firefighters walk near homes threatened by the Woolsey Fire in Malibu in November 2018. 
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

When the Woolsey fire broke out a year ago at Boeing’s shuttered nuclear and rocket engine testing site near Simi Valley, a private fire crew working for the aerospace giant was the closest to the flames.

A firetruck headed to the scene. But it didn’t get far.

Minutes after leaving the station, Boeing’s white older-model truck puttered to a stop not far from where the fire was burning, sources familiar with the day’s events told the Los Angeles Times. It would prove to be just one in a chain of things that went wrong in the early battle against what would become the most destructive fire in modern Los Angeles County history.

Fueled by 25 mph winds on a red flag day, the Woolsey fire grew at a terrifying clip. With Boeing’s truck breaking down just over a mile from the station near the facility’s gate, it would take almost 20 minutes for the first local firefighters to arrive on the scene. On this day, the Ventura County Fire Department was already busy fighting the Hill fire, which was threatening dozens of homes and businesses.

When they did arrive, local firefighters found a wind-driven, two-headed blaze rapidly spreading through rocky, hilly terrain. It would go on to burn more than 1,000 homes from Oak Park to Malibu and cause the deaths of four people.

NASA contractors and staff evacuated within minutes of the fire’s start. Boeing’s firetruck was abandoned where it sat about 50 feet off the road, a local firefighter told The Times.

One Boeing staff member on the scene mentioned that the aerospace company’s truck had experienced problems with its radiator, said the firefighter, who requested anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak to the media.

A white firetruck, seen in the background at the Santa Susana Field Lab in 2016, broke down after private firefighters attempted to respond to the blaze, sources say.
(Courtesy of Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles)

The broken-down truck was one of several problems that bedeviled the early fight against the Woolsey fire.

A Times investigation earlier this year found that in the first few hours of the fire, first responders’ efforts were hampered by the lack of a clear plan from incident leaders and a need for more firefighters on the front lines in Ventura County. The Los Angeles County Fire Department kept dozens of firefighters in Agoura Hills, rather than sending them to the front lines — waiting for the fire to reach L.A. County.

An L.A. County report released last month came to similar conclusions, noting that local fire leaders’ pleas to nearby fire chiefs for more mutual aid help were not answered, causing a substantial lack of firefighters and equipment to stop the fast-moving blaze. The draft report does not mention the truck breakdown, as Boeing declined to participate because of pending litigation, which limited the ability of the report’s authors to compile any information about the aerospace company’s Santa Susana Field Lab or its firefighting efforts.

In February, residents filed a lawsuit against Boeing and Southern California Edison, alleging the companies were negligent in their duties to protect the property from catching fire.

Edison said in a recent quarterly earnings report that the company had seen a redacted draft of the Woolsey fire report in which the Ventura County Fire Department’s investigation team determined that electrical equipment owned and operated by Edison was the cause of the Woolsey fire. “Absent additional evidence, SCE believes that it is likely that its equipment was associated with the ignition of the Woolsey Fire,” the company wrote.

Allied Universal, which provides security services at the field lab, declined to answer questions from The Times and said it directs all media inquiries on the Woolsey fire to Boeing.

Citing pending litigation, Boeing declined to answer specific questions about its firetruck or firefighter staffing level.

Instead, Boeing spokeswoman Chamila Nothum said in a statement that the company had security and fire personnel stationed at the Santa Susana site, and that on the day of the Woolsey fire, flames were reported at two locations on the site.

“Firefighting agencies were promptly notified, and four fire and security personnel stationed at the Santa Susana site promptly responded to the report of the fire,” Nothum said. “Upon arrival, the external county and municipal fire jurisdictions established incident command over the firefighting activities. Personnel stationed at the Santa Susana site continued to engage in firefighting activities and assisted county and municipal firefighters. While responding to the fire, firefighting agencies had access to water from Boeing’s property on the Santa Susana site. Boeing also took steps to notify personnel working at the site of the fire.”

A firefighter who responded to the Woolsey fire told The Times that a Boeing staff member helped guide first responders around the facility, but he did not recall working with any Boeing firefighters to combat the actual blaze.

The facility opened in 1948 when North American Aviation — later North American Aviation Rocketdyne Division, then Rockwell International and, more recently, Boeing — began research, development and testing of rocket engines, in cooperation with the U.S. Army Air Forces, according to NASA.

Boeing boasts on its website that “virtually every major U.S. space program, from the first manned Mercury flights to the Apollo moon landings and Space Shuttle fleet, owns part of its success” to work completed at the 2,850-acre site in the Simi Hills.

At its height in 1964, Rocketdyne employed 9,000 people at the field lab and more at the Canoga Park plant.

The site and its cleanup have been the focus of multiple lawsuits in recent years brought on by environmental and public health advocates who have argued the site is in need of substantial remediation. In 1959, the site experienced the first partial nuclear meltdown in America. In 2012, a survey by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found hundreds of radioactive hot spots at the site.

At one time, the Santa Susana Field Lab had a robust fire crew and a 6,634-square-foot fire station, equipped with about five fire engines and trucks, including two brush rigs, along with at least one ambulance, former Rocketdyne firefighters told The Times. It also had 2.2 million gallons of water in tanks that fed hydrants scattered throughout the facility.

It remains unclear how many firefighters are still based at the facility, with many of the operations mothballed. As part of the site’s cleanup, the facility’s large fire station was recently demolished. It sat near Southern California Edison’s electrical substation that relayed two minutes before the Woolsey fire started.

Scott Promen, 62, who worked as a firefighter at the field lab through the 1980s, said the Santa Susana fire crew used to train regularly, and occasionally they would staff a nearby Ventura County fire station when the county was on assignment.

Promen said although there’s only a fraction of the people working at the Santa Susana Field Lab, the site still has people and electrical lines, two of the most frequent causes of fires.

Source: Los Angeles Times

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LAFD Honors Camarillo Copter Pilot for Risky Woolsey Fire Rescue

From left, retired pilot Dave Nordquist receives a Medal of Merit from Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas. (Photo: Gary Apodaca)

The Los Angeles Fire Department honored a Camarillo resident during its annual Valor Awards ceremony on Friday for performing a risky helicopter rescue during the Woolsey Fire.

Dave Nordquist, 58, worked as a helicopter pilot for the department when he and pilot Joel Smith rescued three people and two dogs trapped on Castro Peak in the Santa Monica Mountains on the second day of the fire a year ago.

Nordquist was wearing a GoPro camera during the rescue and uploaded the footage to his YouTube page after editing it down to 11 minutes.

“No one really knew what happened except for me and Joel until the video came out,” Nordquist said.

The footage went viral, racking up hundreds of thousands of views and bringing national attention to their efforts. A year later, the two were awarded a Medal of Merit for their actions, among the highest honors given by LAFD.

Nordquist and Smith had been performing water drops on the Woolsey Fire when the helicopter coordinator reported three technicians trapped on Castro Peak. While running low on fuel, Nordquist flew the copter to the peak and kept it steady near the ground while Smith got out and found the trapped technicians, bringing them on board before the fire reached the peak.

“I was told it was burned over five to 10 minutes after we left,” Nordquist said.

Nordquist was born and raised in Van Nuys. As the grandson of a World War II pilot, he took an early interest in flying and got his pilot’s license as a teenager.

However, instead of pursuing a career in aviation, Nordquist followed his father’s advice and became a firefighter at 19, working for the LAFD as a fire engineer for almost two decades. At one point, a colleague suggested he get his helicopter to fly for the agency.

“Let’s say you want to start riding a motorcycle. Well, you just add that onto your already existing driver’s license, and that’s the same kind of principle with going into different categories of aircraft,” Nordquist said.

Nordquist first worked as a flight instructor and eventually became a copter pilot. The day the Hill and Woolsey fires broke out, he had a sense of what he was about to get into, but he never imagined he would participate in a rescue like the one he did.

Nordquist said he was humbled to be recognized by his fellow firefighters for his actions, but noted that as a copter pilot, rescues just came with the territory.

“I had days on the job even more heroic that I never got recognized for, and that’s OK,” Nordquist said. “We don’t do it for acclaim or notoriety.”

Since the rescue, Nordquist has retired from the fire agency and taken a job flying for Erickson Inc., working as a private contractor to assist fire departments all over the world. Although he does not work for LAFD directly anymore, he said there’s a mutual respect among all colleagues past and present.

“When we’re in the air, we’re just another air asset,” he said.


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