Brinnon firefighter returns from leading statewide helicopter firefighting efforts

Posted 9/20/20

Brinnon Fire Department’s Jerry Rule has returned from a two-week deployment fighting the Palmer, Evans Canyon and Bartholomew wildfires.

Rule runs Brinnon Fire Department’s Wildland …

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Brinnon firefighter returns from leading statewide helicopter firefighting efforts

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Brinnon Fire Department’s Jerry Rule has returned from a two-week deployment fighting the Palmer, Evans Canyon and Bartholomew wildfires.

Rule runs Brinnon Fire Department’s Wildland Firefighting Program and served as the helicopter manager for the multi-agency effort to quell the flames across Washington, which recently kicked up once again amid a recent bout of dry, windy weather. 

“My job is to manage getting the helicopter airborne, going to the fire at the right frequencies. And then I respond to the fire and I help manage aviation resources on the scene while supporting my aircraft,” Rule said in an interview with The Leader during his deployment.

Rule was tasked with overseeing the airborne operations for a heavy-lift helicopter as it conducted firefighting efforts.

In describing the Kaman KMAX helicopter, Rule said: “It kind of looks like a mosquito, it’s a very thin aircraft but it’s very powerful. It carries about 680 gallons of water and we’ve got a variable bucket on there so we can drop a little or a lot.”

A big part of Rule’s role in fighting the fires focused upon coordination of the efforts of helicopter fire crews.

Typically, he said, an aircraft oversees the efforts and monitors fixed-wing aircraft operations, like tankers, before clearing the area for helicopter crews.

But, as Rule points out, knowing when and where to operate are only a couple of the hurdles he has to clear while managing the birds.   

“All these pilots are restricted by hours,” Rule explained. “We can fly
36 hours in six days. If we’re out there running and gunning, our pilots are flying eight-hour days, and those 36 hours add up really fast.”

Because of the restrictions on hours, Rule said, a significant part of his job centers around managing the workable hours of the pilots for the helicopter, which sometimes means seeking other pilots to swap out crews or staggering start times for helicopter fire-suppression efforts in order to save airtime.

“It’s the helicopter manager’s job — being the government representative — to meet all the rules and regulations for many different organizations, so it’s a pretty busy job,” he added.

Despite being a rather demanding job, Rule noted that his many years of experience have prepared him and taught him a few tricks for managing the demanding workload.

“I’ve been doing this so long, that I can frontload things,” Rule said. “I do all my paperwork for the day, I pre-load everything, so at the end of the day all I have to do is put our close-down numbers in and how many buckets we put out and all that stuff. That’s where the experience comes in.”

Rule said that Brinnon Fire is looking to make some significant moves in the years to come that will enhance the capabilities of the department to react and respond to fires not only locally, but at the state and national levels as well. 

“There’s a lot of good things happening down at Brinnon Fire; it’s not the sleepy little fire department it used to be,” Rule said. “We’re not only going to be doing fire engine, wildland brush-rig type stuff; we’re going to get into the aviation business. We’re looking to stand up an aviation module so that when the time comes, they can call our department through the dispatch process to staff a Type-2 helicopter.”

Rule said he hoped to see Brinnon Fire outfitted with the capabilities to staff a helicopter crew sometime in the next year or two.

“[Brinnon Fire Department] has a pretty versatile capability in the wildland business and we’re going to expand upon that in the next couple of years,” Rule said. “We’re an all-hazards department and we are a very passionate group that’s made up of career firefighters, residents and volunteers coming together as a group to respond to these requests.”

Shortly after returning from the deployment, Brinnon Fire Department announced Sept. 9 that Rule had once again been deployed, this time with the department’s Brush 41 on the Whitney Fire to work with dozer crews near
Highway 2. Accompanying Rule on the deployment is Brinnon Fire’s  Bella Lusk and Quilcene Fire’s Tyson Svetich.

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