New training for US Navy prepares sailors to fight fires

Navy

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The U.S. Navy is bringing back equipment to help service members train for fires.

Bambi Buckets are used for aerial firefighting but Master Chief Lance Howarth says squadrons on the East Coast haven’t used them for years.

“If you have a source in the Navy, to me, it’s beneficial to use it for everything it’s used for. If that’s one of the capabilities we have, it’d be foolish not to use,” he said.

So, last month, the HM-12 Squadron based out of Naval Station Norfolk got the go-ahead to train with the equipment.

The buckets are used with MH-53E helicopters, which are capable of lifting heavy loads.

“It can lift 1,200 gallons of water, which is approximately 11,000 pounds,” said Lt. CMDR. Jeff Spencer about the Bambi Buckets. “We can pick that up with our helicopter underneath and fly it to fires and drop water onto fires to help extinguish it.”

Spencer is an HM-12 pilot and says they’ve already trained eight crews to use the equipment.

Much of the training was similar to others they’ve experienced but they’re excited to add a new capability.

“It’s great. It’s fulfilling to be able to take all that training, all the experiences you gain in the air craft, all the challenging days you’ve been through, and apply those to something that helps other people,” Spencer said.

Howarth says training was amazing, even though it’s something that hasn’t been done in 14 years.

The last squadron that used the buckets was disestablished 14 years ago. Howarth says only a couple of people are still around that trained with the equipment before but their guys are grateful that what they’re learning will be of use.

“You do anything like this that’s humanitarianism, its always rewarding,” he said.

Being able to fight fires from the air hits home for both of these men. Howarth, who spent time fighting fires also on the civilian side, is from Oregon. Spencer is from Northern California.

Both states were hit hard this year by wildfires.

“I used to see H53s from the Navy flying over when our sister squad was in Alameda, California. I have also been around wildfires quite a bit growing up in that area. I never imagined that I would be in a position to both fly a helicopter and lift and aerial firefighting bucket to provide that service,” Spencer said.

Howarth says they can be called on by different agencies to help assist and they’re proud they’ll be able to do so.

“Obviously we don’t want anything to happen when we get called upon for disaster relief,” Spencer said. “But it’s great to have that capability in case something happens to go out, use that training, work with your crew and help civilians or other military members.”


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