By Miriam Raftery
September 18, 2019 (San Diego) -- On August 30th, the County of San Diego issued a news release titled “CAL FIRE Prepares To Add New Aerial Attack Plane”. It incorrectly stated, “CAL FIRE plans in the near future to purchase a retardant-dropping C-130 air tanker and the agency’s pilots got a chance to train in the region this month.”
A video did show a pilot training in Ramona, as ECM reported. Cal Fire Captain and Public Information officer Issac Sanchez, in the video, indicated that Cal Fire hoped to have a C-130 permanently stationed in the region within the next couple of years.
However, yesterday ECM received an e-mail from Thomas Dominguez, who says he is a former firefighter. He disputed the County’s statements and indicated that the aircraft in question is to be given, not sold, to Cal Fire by the federal government. He also stated that the aircraft is not currently equipped with a fire retardant system.
CalFire has confirmed that these are truthful statements, and that this process will likely take a couple of years, though will ultimately make our region safer.
Below are full comments from Dominguez, including two corrections he sent post-publication (McClellan Park, not Mather Field, and S2 T tanker pilots, not ST 2):
"Cal Fire isn't buying any C 130 aircraft. The aircraft are being given to Cal Fire by the FEderal government. One C-130 has been delivered and it has been painted in Cal-Fire colors. It currently takes up space at McClellan Park in Sacramento at Cal Fire Air Ops HQ. It DOES NOT have a retardant delivery system. In effect, it is a Cal Fire cargo plane.
The Coulson C-130 in the story is on contract ($) to Cal Fire. It is making the rounds at Cal Fire air attack bases to train Cal Fire’s S2 T tanker pilots who are on contract to Cal Fire through Dynacorp.
The US Coast Guard traded in 7 C-130’s H models and got C-127J Spartans which were not requested, not ordered by nor needed by the US Air Force. At first, the US Forest Service was to get the 7 C-130’s after the US Air Force was mandated to replace the wing boxes and install retardant systems as well as perform depot level maintenance/service. There was never a contract established for retardant systems.
As far as I can tell, only 2 C-130’s were put in service. Cal Fire has one and the US Forest service still has the other. When both C-130’s were in custody of the Forest Service they had used borrowed retardant systems (MAFFS) from the US Air Force/Air National Guard.
The remaining 5 C 130’s Cal Fire is supposed to get are not in possession of Cal Fire and are not in any way shape or form ready to fly. I suspect the Air Force has not worked on them at all. Of those remaining 5 aircraft, two will be spares. When and if, they ever are made flight ready by the Air Force and get retardant systems built and installed and if Cal Fire takes delivery the aircraft (5) will be stationed around the State including Ramona.
ETA of all 7 C 130’s is being given as 2 years out. Not based on reality. While the 7 C-130’s may be new to Cal Fire, they are not new aircraft.
We sent the above e-mail from Dominguez to Captain Sanchez.
Today he replied and confirmed that Dominguez is accurate regarding the ownership transfer details and current lack of fire retardant system in the plane.
The good news, however, is Sanchez said Cal Fire has plans to add retardant systems not only to the plane that San Diego hopes to have stationed locally, but to a fleet of seven C-130 planes slated to be sent here by the federal government to help bolster California’s firefighting abilities—but likely not in time for the current fire season.
CAL FIRE is in the process of receiving 7 C-130s from the federal government. The aircraft are being acquired at no charge to CAL FIRE through work conducted by Sen Feinstein at the federal level.
Once retrofitted and placed into service, the aircraft will be able to drop 4,000 gallons of retardant. There is no firm timeline for when all 7 aircraft will be in service.
ECM also forwarded the e-mail from Dominguez to Supervisor Dianne Jacob’s office, but we have not received a response from her office as to why the errors in the County press release and video occurred.