Tuscon Citizen
Pima County Helicopter a Tool to Save Lives, Fight Fires
September 24, 2012
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  • There are a number of reasons visitors and residents can run into trouble when they explore their desert surroundings.

    Whether they get lost, become dehydrated, injure themselves in a fall or just take ill, Pima County now has another tool to help them get back to safety.

    Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said at a press conference Monday that the County’s new rescue-capable helicopter will be vital in responding to such calls.

    Previously, the County had to rely on military or state-owned helicopters, which often weren’t available because those agencies have their own missions, Dupnik said.

    The American Eurocopter AS350B3e – with a federally-sanctioned call sign of “Sheriff 1” – is able to operate at high altitudes and use a hoist to carry people out of dangerous situations and bring them in for medical treatment if necessary.

    Dupnik said it also has the ability to pick up heavy, large-capacity buckets of water, known as “Bambi Buckets,” to perform water drops in the case of wildfires.

    Equipped with the latest surveillance equipment, Sheriff 1 also will be used along the border to support some U.S. Border Patrol operations, as well as the Sheriff’s own border crimes unit.

    The $3.8 million helicopter was purchased with drug seizure money, federal grants and an insurance settlement after the department’s last helicopter tragically crashed in 2011, killing pilot Loren Leonberger and injuring three others. The cause of the crash has not yet been determined by the National Transportation Safety Board..

    “Since then, we’ve worked very hard to get another helicopter,” Dupnik said, adding, “What you see out there hasn’t cost the taxpayers of Pima County one dime.”

    Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson said the new helicopter will assist the County in its goal of remaining engaged in regional activities. “This is going to allow us to partner and collaborate with the various emergency management agencies throughout the County,” she said.

    Pima County Supervisor Richard Elías concurred, noting the County’s new regional communications center will provide communications services for 29 police and fire agencies and put 7,000 new radios into service. When it is activated in December 2013, Elías said it will further strengthen public safety and emergency response capabilities. “That’s the kind of cooperation it takes and that’s the kind of cooperation we look forward to in the future,” he said.

    In attendance to show support were representatives from the Tucson sector of the U.S. Border Patrol, the state Department of Public Safety, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and the Tucson Airport Authority, as well as police officials from the City of Tucson, the Towns of Marana and Oro Valley, and the City of South Tucson. Also present were representatives from various fire districts.