Special wildfire units train at Gowen Field

Posted at 6:09 PM, Apr 22, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-22 20:16:44-04

It seems we will go from flooding concerns in the Treasure Valley to wildfire worries in a hurry with all that extra grass that could potentially fuel fires this Summer.

However, preparations are already underway as the Air Force teams up with the U.S. Forest Service.

Six On Your Side met up with special units in town over the next couple of days that are coming in from all over the country to train at Gowen Field.

"If we get the call, we're ready to go within 48 hours," says the 152nd Operations Ground Commander Lt. Col. Tony Machabee.

The MAFFS crews act as back up when local aircraft contracted to help fight wildfires are exhausted. Their training certification this year happens to be taking place at Gowen Field.

"Boise, we have found, is a very strategic location when we activate MAFFS," says Kim Christensen, the deputy assistant director of the U.S. Forest Service.

MAFFS stands for modular airborne fire fighting systems. They're basically portable units that can be attached to military C-130 aircraft and can hold 3,000 gallons of water or fire retardant. 

Nearly 400 Air National Guard, Air Force Reservists, U.S. Forest Service and other support agency personnel are in Boise for training. The special units are based out of WY., CO., CA. and NV.

"We bring all four air wings into the same location to train," Christensen says. "That allows us to really ensure we have consistency and standardization of procedures and operating perimeters and it allows us all to get together and work together seamlessly then when we get called out."

In 2016, MAFFS units were called on to make dozens of drops in the Great Basin Area, including over the massive Pioneer Fire. The mission can be dangerous since they're flying so close to the ground, releasing a lot of weight all at once and are doing it amid smoky skies.

Still, the pilots who work together to strategically release the fire retardant know they're doing it to protect lives and property.

"To me, this is the most rewarding mission we could possibly do within the Air Force. This is that domestic operation that we're only one of four C-130 units in the country that get to participate in this," Machabee says. "So, for us, this is a tremendous opportunity."

The combined training with all four special units, the U.S. Forest Service and ground personnel only takes place every 4-5 years.

The MAFFS program was created in the early 1970s.