Placer supervisors approve $2.5 million helicopter | SierraSun.com

Placer supervisors approve $2.5 million helicopter

Joanna Hartman
Sierra Sun

The Placer County Board of Supervisors approved the $2.5 million purchase of a new helicopter for law enforcement, rescue and fire fighting.

“Our missions have expanded dramatically since 1995,” said Captain Dave Harris, Placer County Sheriff’s division commander of support services. “The aircraft we have now doesn’t keep pace with the types and numbers of missions being requested of us.”

The department has flown a 1971 Bell OH-58 since 1995 and is ready to upgrade to a machine with more advanced equipment, he said. Upon purchase of the new helicopter, the department wants to keep the older Bell for backup. Supervisors approved the new chopper last week.

The new aircraft, an American Eurocopter Aerostar AS350 B3, costs $2.5 million plus an additional $1 million for related mission equipment.

The aircraft is designed for high altitude and hot weather, Harris said.

The Eurocopter will also have a hoist rescue device for times when landing isn’t possible, and a water bucket to contain or slow small fires.

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“We’ve often been the first ones to see the smoke rising,” Harris said.

The U.S. Forest Service and California Department of Forestry have informally agreed to support Placer sheriff’s as first-on-scene in fire fighting response.

“If there is even one time we can see a fire and stop it from escalating, for me it’s worth it,” said Bruce Kranz, Placer County District 5 supervisor, who, along with the sheriff’s department, has been advocating the purchase of a new helicopter.

The aircraft will benefit mountain communities because it has high-altitude capabilities, unlike the older helicopter, and will assist in rescues, Kranz said.

Supervisors have already allocated $500,000 that the sheriff’s department raised from selling surplus aircraft and equipment and another $1 million from Placer County’s general fund.

The sheriff’s department is planning to pay the remaining $2 million with its own finances, Homeland Security grants and possibly with help from a Lincoln tribal casino, Harris said.

The existing helicopter was originally acquired through the Department of Defense Re-utilization Program for drug searches in Placer’s foothills. Since then sheriff’s have expanded helicopter use to crime detection, search and rescue, and aerial photography.

A helicopter feasibility study conducted by county staff determined that “a more powerful and versatile helicopter would enhance the sheriff’s capabilities in each of these law enforcement support activities.”

“The new aircraft provides additional power and room inside to rescue more people at one time,” Harris said.

The county expects to get the helicopter within the next 18 to 24 months, said Placer’s Chief Assistant County Executive Officer Rich Colwell.