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Night-firefighting contract a first for B.C. helicopter company

Ascent Helicopters lands night Alberta contract for next 5 summers
Ascent Helicopters has been awarded a contract for night-time forest firefighting with the Alberta government. Photo shows an air ambulance helicopter. (Ascent Helicopters photo via Facebook)

A Parksville-area helicopter company is off to fight forest fires at night in Alberta.

The crew from Ascent Helicopters arrived in Alberta on Sunday to do some initial training with personnel there, according to Trent Lemke, owner of Ascent Helicopters.

Ascent has experience doing search and rescue and air ambulance operations at night, but this will be their first night-time firefighting contract, he added.

“In the U.S. they do it quite a bit,” he said.

Ascent’s purpose-built tanks on the bottom of their helicopters, combined with night vision use will bolster forest fire fighting efforts by allowing crews to “action” a blaze throughout the night, Lemke said.

“If it’s a high-priority fire you can stay with it, where traditionally we’re pulling off just before dark,” he said. “If there is [ground] personnel that they’re going to leave on the fires, normally if they don’t have aircraft backup they can’t action the fire. They can only do light duties until there’s a backup or emergency back in plan to get them out of there.”

Ascent’s contract with the Alberta government is for the next five summers. Its chopper will be one of three working as part of Alberta’s new developmental program. The Ascent helicopter will have a crew of six rotating in and out of Alberta over the summer.

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The water tanks were developed approximately 20 years ago for the province of B.C., Lemke said, specially built for firefighting operations.

“Alberta is quite anxious to try one out and see how it works with this program,” he added.

Lemke is hopeful that some day night-time operations can be used in B.C.

“To me it only makes sense, but there’s lots of factors involved in it for sure.”

Ascent Helicopters has been active for close to 20 years, carrying out specialized flight services to a variety of government and industry clients including BC Hydro, MOFLNR Rapattack Program, Crescent Spur Heli Skiing, BC Air Ambulance, film and mining and resource exploration.

In 2023, it was awarded a $554.4-million contract to supply new aircraft to BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) to deliver helicopter emergency medical services.

The company has bases in Parksville and Fernie.

Kevin Forsyth

About the Author: Kevin Forsyth

As a lifelong learner, I enjoy experiencing new cultures and traveled around the world before making Vancouver Island my home.
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