As skyscrapers increasingly dominate city skylines across the world, firefighters are being equipped with helicopters to fight blazes in built-up urban centres. In 2013 about 90,000 people died in fires across the world with the problem being most acute in wealthier, more developed countries.
In the USA, firefighters were called out to deal with almost 1.5 million fires in 2013, including 400,000 in residential areas. Twenty-three fires were categorised as particularly severe and were among the most destructive. Last year alone, more than 3,000 Americans died in fires.
It is not just in the USA – in China, according to official Public Security Ministry data, the first day of the New Year holiday week saw about 3,000 fires break out. Most were caused by fireworks, and cost the country’s economy more than 7 million yuan (about £707K / US$1.1M).
Also in 2013, the world’s largest country, Russia experienced over 153,000 fires in residential buildings which caused damage estimated at US$400 million.
Skyscrapers blaze like matches
Modern urban centres are developing upwards. Skyscrapers of course define the cityscapes of New York, Toronto, Sao Paolo, Shanghai, Tokyo, Moscow and cities across the UAE. As they develop in this way, urban centres become increasingly dangerous. It is much harder to extinguish a fire in a heavily built-up high-rise area, as ground-based crews are markedly less effective. As a result, even a small incident can quickly escalate into a major tragedy.
In early February 2011, two neighbouring sky-scrapers caught fire in Shenyang in north-east China. One was about 200 metres high with the other being 150 metres high.
Fire-fighters battled the blaze for six long hours but the buildings were totally gutted. In February 2009, the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Beijing had just been opened. It was 159 metres high and burned like a match and there was precious little left to rebuild. About 90 people were poisoned by smoke inhalation in a fire that broke out in a 35-storey building in the centre of Sao Paolo, Brazil, in January 2005.
Statistics indicate that about 70% of all fires worldwide break out in cities and helicopters are increasingly being looked to as an irreplaceable weapon in every firefighter’s arsenal – both for putting out fires and for evacuating people.
In Moscow in spring 2012, it was helicopters that came to the rescue when a fire broke out on the 66th and 67th floors of Moscow City’s “Vostok” tower which is Europe’s tallest business centre. It was still under construction at the time and with 300 square metres engulfed in flames, strong winds made putting the fire out at that altitude almost impossible. People feared the building could be critically damaged in the inferno and that it might even collapse onto neighbouring buildings. It seemed doomed.
However, two helicopters – a Ka-32A11BC and a Mi-8MTV – came to the rescue. They weaved their way through the flames, which blazed seven metres high, to put out the fire and save the buildings. Darting back and forth between the towering inferno and a nearby river the Ka-32A11BC directed its horizontal fire-fighting water cannon at the windows, and the Mi-8MTV dumped tons of water onto the blaze, dousing the flames and saving the building.
The helicopters also proved their versatility in summer 2013 in Indonesia, fighting a massive forest fire on the island of Sumatra. A Russian Ka-32A11BC was also deployed as part of the international firefighting mission. The Ka-32A11BC has put out fires in Idaho (USA) and Vancouver (Canada), leading American specialists to recognise it as the best in its class.
The Russian-made Ka-32A11BC is so successful at fighting fires that it has been adopted as the emblem of the Global Helicopter Firefighting Initiative (GHFI). João Velloso, CEO of Brazil’s Helipark Taxi Aereo commented, “This helicopter boasts unique capabilities for its class, making it highly effective at achieving its goals. It is particularly known for its reliability and resilience. It has never let us down.”
The Ka-32A11BC’s coaxial rotors mean it can be deployed in difficult environments, where traditional helicopters cannot operate due to the risk of damaging their tail rotors and potentially crashing. The Ka-32A11BC needs just one pilot, and is highly manoeuvrable in high winds – it can turn sideways or tail-first into the wind and small handing errors have no impact on its operation. It can carry loads of up to 5 tonnes on its external sling.
In Brazil it is used to build electricity transmission lines in the Amazon. It can operate for up to 32,000 hours and boasts low running costs. The Ka-32A11BC can be fitted with over 40 different kinds of firefighting equipment, from Bambi Bucket and Simplex systems to water cannon for horizontal firefighting.
In further testament to its success, this helicopter is currently in service in numerous countries around the world – Spain, Brazil, Azerbaijan, Canada, Indonesia, Japan, South Africa, Switzerland, Kazakhstan and Portugal. Several multirole Ka-32A11BC helicopters have also been bought by China and Republic of Korea has a fleet of 40.
To date, Russian Helicopters has produced about 140 such helicopters, half of which operate outside Russia.
For more information, go to www.russianhelicopters.aero