Helicopter Channels

Joined
Jun 9, 2020
Messages
49
Location
Murrieta, CA
On my on my weekend hikes near Forest Falls there were a couple of fires. They had fixed wing and helicopters. I could hear the fixed-wing. But I don't know what channel's to listen to for the helicopters. The ones dipping into the canyons. This is I guess Fire season now and kind of new to me. I'd really like to know ahead of time so I can get the hell out of there if I need to.
 

dextergiii

Member
Premium Subscriber
Joined
May 20, 2020
Messages
9
Location
California
I'm near San Bernardino and listening to forest fire related traffic is the primary reason I got into SDR. I don't hear air traffic though, and not sure if it's my antenna or distance from the fires fighting activities. Is there an antenna particularly suited for this purpose?
 
Joined
Jun 9, 2020
Messages
49
Location
Murrieta, CA
You might start here and look under San Bernardino BDF and program those in your scanner. California - United States Forest Service Scanner Frequencies and Radio Frequency Reference
I did program those in but I thought helicopters were using the aircraft band. I just don't know where. When I try to look them up some of them showdown at 118 and some are at 119. I thought each County had their own Victor Channel as I've heard it referred to. I'll keep looking. Thank you for taking the time to reply.
 

Remington12G

Active Member
Premium Subscriber
Joined
Dec 20, 2018
Messages
629
Location
Kentucky/Tennessee
On my on my weekend hikes near Forest Falls there were a couple of fires. They had fixed wing and helicopters. I could hear the fixed-wing. But I don't know what channel's to listen to for the helicopters. The ones dipping into the canyons. This is I guess Fire season now and kind of new to me. I'd really like to know ahead of time so I can get the hell out of there if I need to.
Try these... National Interagency Fire Center Scanner Frequencies and Radio Frequency Reference
 

Paysonscanner

Active Member
Premium Subscriber
Joined
Mar 1, 2019
Messages
636
Location
Gila (He la) Co AZ
I did program those in but I thought helicopters were using the aircraft band. I just don't know where. When I try to look them up some of them showdown at 118 and some are at 119. I thought each County had their own Victor Channel as I've heard it referred to. I'll keep looking. Thank you for taking the time to reply.
The air to ground freqs for the 4 initial attack zones in California for federal agencies is what is used for fires, helos and fixed wing. There are also air to air tactics FM freqs assigned national forest by national forest. If a county has a victor freq, it would not be used by a federal agency unless they are on a mutual aid situation on county jurisdiction. There are also air to air AM frequencies assigned air base by air base (USFS/BLM/Cal Fire). These are usually used for approach and over fire air traffic control by the "Air Attack" or Air Tactical Group Supervisor assigned to larger incidents. Once an aircraft arrives on scene they use FM frequencies, because that is what the people on the ground have. Very few ground units have a VHF AM radio, those that do include the big utility trucks the helitack crews use. They only use their's when they are managing base heliports at large incidents. Also on big fires, called "extended attack" they switch off the freqs assigned for initial attack. Extended attack starts when a fire is still uncontained the next day or there abouts. That is when the NIFC freqs start getting used, but the VHF AM freqs aren't available in a list the public has access to. The FAA annually gives a list to NIFC on what they can use on extended attacks that year, when they run out due to many fires going on at once, they have to ask the FAA to get them some more. The extended attack air to grounds and air to air tactics FM have to be assigned by NIFC also, though it gives each GACC (Geographical Area Coordination Centers 10 nationwide) a list of what they can draw from. On extended attack incidents in Calif. a air to ground command freq and air to ground freq for everyone else is set up. Those in command, the Incident Commander, the Operations Chief, branch directors and division supervisors (a basic geographical area on the perimeter of a fire). If a fire gets more than about 5 divisions then they are grouped into branches. There are some other command positions too. Command air to ground is used to speak mainly with air attack about allocation of aviation resources to various places on a fire. The other air to ground is used by people below t he division supervisors, such as crews, engines, dozers, etc. to tell an aircraft the specifics of a retardant drop or bucket drop from a helicopter. You might hear, "that was an OK drop, but next time drop a little closer to that band of rock up the slope." The way FM frequencies are assigned for large incidents if the listed NIFC freqs are all being used nearby on other fires gets real complicated and I won't explain it here. That is when the search function of a scanner has to be used.

You need to understand the layers of jurisdiction for fires in California, which can get a bit complex. There are "federal responsibility areas" (FRA), State Responsibility Areas (SRA) and Local Responsibility Areas (LRA). Then there are areas of SRA where a county fire department provides SRA protection by a contract with Cal Fire. Then there are LRA's that are protected by Cal Fire and the local government pays the state for it. Then there are coop agreements where a National Forest might protect all the private land (wildland only, not structures) inside the forest boundary, which is SRA, but the state pays the USFS to do so. Al of this is indicated on maps and agency people work with this all the time so that there isn't any land uncovered, except in some desert areas that rarely burn on private land outside a local fire district. Understanding what you hear on a scanner can involve a few civics lessons.
 
Last edited:

Paysonscanner

Active Member
Premium Subscriber
Joined
Mar 1, 2019
Messages
636
Location
Gila (He la) Co AZ
P.S. Since all emergencies are managed under the Incident Command System, a federal, state and local incident is managed the same way. What I said about air to air tactics, FM, air to air AM and air to ground is all set up on Cal Fire frequencies for a SRA fire. However, they are all down on 150 MHz frequencies, with the exception of National Air Guard and National Flight Following, which are federal frequencies used by all levels fed and state. Also in California the SRA is defined by law and the Board of Forestry. It has to do with watershed lands, agricultural production (mainly grazing lands) and some other factors I don't remember. SRA might exist on one side of a street and not the other, although it is usually along a line like a Central Valley canal, a river or such.

One last thing, the pilot of a helo usually takes care of the VHF AM radio and an observer or helitack superintendent usually takes care of the FM radio. If there aren't any agency people on board the pilot has to do it all. I'm told it is very challenging. I would love to fly in a helo over a fire sometime, but I'm a retired nurse and only got to fly on EMS flights now and again. The "air attack" ship has a pilot an the actual Air Tactical Group Supervisor in it. The pilot usually takes care of talking with air traffic control and Air Attack usually talks with the fire and the aircraft on the victor frequency. Air attack has to be able to keep loads of things going on all at once, working more frequencies than anyone else has to. It takes a special person to do this.
 
Last edited:

p1879

Member
Joined
Mar 15, 2004
Messages
177
Here are some links that will help you understand (some of) the jargon and nomenclature heard on wildland incidents:

local aircraft de-confliction may be of interest, too. In many places 123.025 is used for rotary wing, some backcountry areas in Region 1 also use 122.9 for this- for rotary and fixed wing.
p1879
 
Joined
Jun 9, 2020
Messages
49
Location
Murrieta, CA
hapilyretired guy, i sent a couple of messages to you, look up to the right of the page.
I'm still getting used to the software but I found it and replied to you. I'm sorry it took so long for me to see that there was an email waiting. Thank you and I apologize.
 

Paysonscanner

Active Member
Premium Subscriber
Joined
Mar 1, 2019
Messages
636
Location
Gila (He la) Co AZ
It has helped! I can hear a lot of the radio communications going to the Apple Fire now that I know where to listen. Thank you!
I've been following the Apple Fire. It's increasing size fairly quickly. I would not be surprised to see it taken over by a national incident management team - Type 1. If that happens you want of monitor these frequencies:

National Interagency Fire Center Large Incident Comm System

For many reasons they might assign different frequencies, but his usually happens when there are a number of incidents in an area, causing them to run out of the above frequencies. When that happens they pull from a large pool of unused federal frequencies in the area and these are assigned on a one time basis. Then you have to put a scanner into search to find them. 162.0000-173.9875. All the tactical, air to ground and air to air frequencies for the feds listed in the database are for initial attack only. Extended attack incidents get frequencies assigned by South Ops or NIFC, which may include the NIFC system on the above link or the specials I spoke of.
 
Joined
Jun 9, 2020
Messages
49
Location
Murrieta, CA
I've been following the Apple Fire. It's increasing size fairly quickly. I would not be surprised to see it taken over by a national incident management team - Type 1. If that happens you want of monitor these frequencies:

National Interagency Fire Center Large Incident Comm System

For many reasons they might assign different frequencies, but his usually happens when there are a number of incidents in an area, causing them to run out of the above frequencies. When that happens they pull from a large pool of unused federal frequencies in the area and these are assigned on a one time basis. Then you have to put a scanner into search to find them. 162.0000-173.9875. All the tactical, air to ground and air to air frequencies for the feds listed in the database are for initial attack only. Extended attack incidents get frequencies assigned by South Ops or NIFC, which may include the NIFC system on the above link or the specials I spoke of.
In one of my Facebook groups they have been posting updates to the fire and a team has already been assigned to the fire.

"This fire is being managed under a unified command, which includes California Interagency Incident Management Team 2, a type-1 team, has arrived to help manage the fire."

Is that good or bad? It's been too smoggy down here in the southern Inland Empire although I do live on a hill it doesn't let me see for miles and miles like that. I'm not hearing as much as I was. I think the fire has burnt more to the east and San Jac is now in the way. I can still hear some of the tankers and the guy up there that seems to be in charge of all the planes. It's ironic because we were going to hike the San Jac this weekend but look to head at the weather and said he'll know! The temperatures did not look healthy.

I'm nestled nicely between the Cleveland and the San Bernardino and the San Jac down here. I can even hear Monte Vista down in San Diego. The fires that we have here where I live are usually Hot & fast. The yellow grass is just go up so fast and usually by the next day it's pretty much down to little activity. It's up near Idyllwild when the fire gets going that it kind of sinks its teeth in. Or over on the other side of Lake Elsinore up near the Ortega Highway.

This is a lot to learn real quick. I'm learning that there's the county fire department, Cal Fire, and then there's the forest service. And it seems like they all crossover and not just as Mutual Aid which I'm more than familiar with mutual Aid policies. It's like their service area is weave in and out of each other's. It seems like they all go there and figure out whose area it is and then they set up I guess it's called a comm plan so I have to keep straight Cal Fire from Forest Service. But it seems like Cal Fire stays on their own frequencies and Forest Service stays on their own and like the Chiefs in the middle relay back and forth. It seems about stupid.

They do the same thing up in the San Bernardino Mountains that I've only had a couple of chances to go hiking in. That's what got me started posting here was the Forest Falls area. They'd have a rescue and they would have multiple agencies there assisting. I used to LAPD. We almost never called CHP or County Sheriff for help.

So... I looked at the list you linked to me and then I looked at the list of Cal Fire and all the Tactical channels they have and it's like I'm blown away.
 

Paysonscanner

Active Member
Premium Subscriber
Joined
Mar 1, 2019
Messages
636
Location
Gila (He la) Co AZ
In one of my Facebook groups they have been posting updates to the fire and a team has already been assigned to the fire.

"This fire is being managed under a unified command, which includes California Interagency Incident Management Team 2, a type-1 team, has arrived to help manage the fire."

Is that good or bad? It's been too smoggy down here in the southern Inland Empire although I do live on a hill it doesn't let me see for miles and miles like that. I'm not hearing as much as I was. I think the fire has burnt more to the east and San Jac is now in the way. I can still hear some of the tankers and the guy up there that seems to be in charge of all the planes. It's ironic because we were going to hike the San Jac this weekend but look to head at the weather and said he'll know! The temperatures did not look healthy.

I'm nestled nicely between the Cleveland and the San Bernardino and the San Jac down here. I can even hear Monte Vista down in San Diego. The fires that we have here where I live are usually Hot & fast. The yellow grass is just go up so fast and usually by the next day it's pretty much down to little activity. It's up near Idyllwild when the fire gets going that it kind of sinks its teeth in. Or over on the other side of Lake Elsinore up near the Ortega Highway.

This is a lot to learn real quick. I'm learning that there's the county fire department, Cal Fire, and then there's the forest service. And it seems like they all crossover and not just as Mutual Aid which I'm more than familiar with mutual Aid policies. It's like their service area is weave in and out of each other's. It seems like they all go there and figure out whose area it is and then they set up I guess it's called a comm plan so I have to keep straight Cal Fire from Forest Service. But it seems like Cal Fire stays on their own frequencies and Forest Service stays on their own and like the Chiefs in the middle relay back and forth. It seems about stupid.

They do the same thing up in the San Bernardino Mountains that I've only had a couple of chances to go hiking in. That's what got me started posting here was the Forest Falls area. They'd have a rescue and they would have multiple agencies there assisting. I used to LAPD. We almost never called CHP or County Sheriff for help.

So... I looked at the list you linked to me and then I looked at the list of Cal Fire and all the Tactical channels they have and it's like I'm blown away.
Having a national incident management team take over is what clears up a lot of the differences in interagency response. A communications plan is developed, portable command repeaters put in place, extended attack tacticals and air to ground frequencies assigned. Everyone gets their handhelds cloned to the same channel plan. That is why an incident commander (IC) is in place from the first unit arriving on scene. As the incident grows, there are measurable factors that are evaluated to have an incident grow from a Type 5, to a 4, then up through Types 3, 2 and 1. At every level people have to be qualified in their position to take jobs at that level. Some incidents start and within hours a Type 1 team is ordered start traveling and assemble on scene. My Daddy was watching the first YouTube video of this fire and said, order up the Type 1 people! Unified command sounds like decision by committee, the potential exists for the to happen. However, my Daddy and my late Hubby (volunteer firefighter) said every time they have seen a unified command, it works quite well and responds to the changing events quickly.

I would suggest you do a little research by starting at the "National Interagency Fire Center" website, Then click on the map the site has on the first page and go the GACC (Geographical Area Coordination Center) websites, especially "South Ops." There are 10 GACC's in the nation and California has two of them, the only state to have more than one GACC. That reflects the workload. Considering all wildland firefighting agencies in the state, California has a little more than 50% of the national workload (all 50 states) in wildland fire management. This is primarily climate and topography driven, The climate produces the type of vegetation native to the state. The worst is when the weather produces the "Devil Winds," as Santa Ana winds are sometimes called. At this time of year this event is not common. The Apple Fire seem to have strong southwest and west winds. It is also terrain driven, fires at the bottom of slopes pre-heat the fuels above and ignition and spread can be rapid. At the beginning of an incident the situation is very dynamic and information flow doesn't always keep up. That is when everybody may not be on the same page (frequency wise) and communicate on freqs that they use in daily work. Where I lived on the western slope of the Sierra, when a fire is first dispatched the command, tactical and aviation frequencies to be used are announced. If the fire was mostly on Cal Fire protection (SRA - State Responsibility Areas) then Cal Fire freqs were used. If not caught on SRA and moving up the slope onto federal protection (FRA) then everyone agrees to go to initial attack freqs assigned to the feds. The Apple Fire is burning on FRA, SRA and LRA (Local Responsibility Area). It should be noted that the Riverside County Fire Department is really Cal Fire. The county decided to contract Cal Fire to provide this department. That combines the LRA and SRA in the unincorporated portions of the county. However, some local incorporated cities have decided to contract the operation of their city fire department to the county, which is a Cal Fire operation. So you will see Cal Fire patches on the uniforms of people responding on a ladder truck in Indio. Cal Fire employees also qualify for and respond with ambulances as paramedics also.

The Apple Fire is burning on a patchwork of all three levels of protection. This is the very reason the Congress passed a law to establish FIRESCOPE in 1972. They directed the U.S. Forest Service to lead a collaborative effort to come up with one management system for everyone. Thus, with a lot of work, that included the USFS, Cal Fire; the counties of Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Fire Department, the Incident Command System was created. You would do well to do a search on ICS, there is a huge amount of information available. You should also do as search on "The Governor's Office of Emergency Services," OES. They provide a lot of information on mutual aid responses. In your research you should do a search on "NWCG Fire Terminology." This is the "National Wildfire Coordination Group." This group consists of federal agencies and the, I think, "The Association of State Foresters" or similar. They have issued a lot of national direction that standardizes many programs. YouTube videos are available with more information than one would think. Agency web pages help also.

Have at it I grew up as a "Forest Service brat." My Daddy worked for the U.S. Forest Service for 36+ plus years, as a seasonal when he came out of college and then a permanent from 1951 to 1987. I grew up on this stuff. Then my late Hubby was a volunteer firefighter for about 35 years and taught me a great deal more. They both have excellent computer bookmarks, notebooks and notes they took when at training sessions and interviewing/rag chewing with a whole range of public safety and land management people.

If you really want to understand what you are hearing you will love to do the research.
 

Fyrtog

Member
Joined
Oct 7, 2011
Messages
8
Location
Los Angeles, CA
Hi Payson Scanner;

Sorry if I High jacked this thread but I tried to send you a PM. I enjoyed reading your above posting and feel that I learned a few new things as well as added to what information tidbits I already knew. You also mentioned about "South Ops". That brought back some memories as I remember being able to listen to them on their old frequency but I think now they communicate differently with the other forests and etc.

Back in the 80's, I sometimes did a ride-along with a CDF/Riverside Co. FD Battalion 9 Chief (Chamlee) in the area which is now Moreno Valley.
I guess they’re still there but South Ops was located in Riverside and he took me there once on a tour. What sticks in my mind was a row of radio consoles and in front of them was a map of the state (think like NORAD) as well as a listing of every piece of equipment available from engines to helicopters. It was very interesting to see in person what I would hear on my scanner.

Michael
 

Paysonscanner

Active Member
Premium Subscriber
Joined
Mar 1, 2019
Messages
636
Location
Gila (He la) Co AZ
Hi Payson Scanner;

Sorry if I High jacked this thread but I tried to send you a PM. I enjoyed reading your above posting and feel that I learned a few new things as well as added to what information tidbits I already knew. You also mentioned about "South Ops". That brought back some memories as I remember being able to listen to them on their old frequency but I think now they communicate differently with the other forests and etc.

Back in the 80's, I sometimes did a ride-along with a CDF/Riverside Co. FD Battalion 9 Chief (Chamlee) in the area which is now Moreno Valley.
I guess they’re still there but South Ops was located in Riverside and he took me there once on a tour. What sticks in my mind was a row of radio consoles and in front of them was a map of the state (think like NORAD) as well as a listing of every piece of equipment available from engines to helicopters. It was very interesting to see in person what I would hear on my scanner.

Michael
I didn't get a PM and I don't know why. I've received some others in the last few days and have responded to them.

The dispatch centers in the state now communicate via the state's microwave system. There used to be a point to point radio network that worked on federal radio frequencies. South Zone consisted of 400 MHz and 160 MHz frequencies. The best part of this was all the down links in Southern California were UHF from Santiago Peak, which has great coverage of that part of the state. When we were visiting my late Hubby's family we enjoyed being able to hear this net mobile all over the area.

North Zone was a point to point system that used a few 400 MHz, a bunch of 160 MHz and 40 MHz frequencies as well, the latter for some of the long hops. Where we lived on the west side of the Sierra we were able to pick up both nets, as the Sierra NF dispatch center is in the Fresno area with, if memory serves me, a 400 MHz link on Bullion. The Stanislaus NF dispatch center is located in Sonora with a 40 MHz link to Saint Johns, a prominent peak northwest of Sacramento.

Some of the paths seemed unlikely, sort of knife edged to rely on each day. I think Cerro Gordo southeast of Lone Pine was linked to either Frazier or Breckenridge by a 166.xxx freq. Somewhere in late Hubby's file cabinets is a diagram of each system, but I haven't seen them in many years. The diagrams came from the old Radio Communication Monitoring Association newsletter. I wonder how many people remember that?

I wonder what South Ops looks like now. The list of resources is now on computers and their daily status is not voiced like they used to be. I don't think they have that many radio consoles now, but I don't know. I've never heard either Ops center, GACC's actually on a forest, district or Cal Fire net, just one what we called the "Zone Nets." I think they just monitor National Air Guard and National Flight Following, but maybe someone else knows better.

California was the first to have federal, state and local agencies together in coordination centers for large areas. They divided the state into two of them and called them "zones." In other states individual agencies had coordination centers, such as the center located in the USFS Regional Office in Albuquerque to cover USFS R3 (AZ & NM). NIFC was called BIFC and had a large number of centers to work with. Then the GACC interagency concept came along, Daddy's memory of when is below fuzzy. Sometime in the 1980's????? A result of the implementation of the ICS?
 

Paysonscanner

Active Member
Premium Subscriber
Joined
Mar 1, 2019
Messages
636
Location
Gila (He la) Co AZ
In one of my Facebook groups they have been posting updates to the fire and a team has already been assigned to the fire.

"This fire is being managed under a unified command, which includes California Interagency Incident Management Team 2, a type-1 team, has arrived to help manage the fire."

Is that good or bad? It's been too smoggy down here in the southern Inland Empire although I do live on a hill it doesn't let me see for miles and miles like that. I'm not hearing as much as I was. I think the fire has burnt more to the east and San Jac is now in the way. I can still hear some of the tankers and the guy up there that seems to be in charge of all the planes. It's ironic because we were going to hike the San Jac this weekend but look to head at the weather and said he'll know! The temperatures did not look healthy.

I'm nestled nicely between the Cleveland and the San Bernardino and the San Jac down here. I can even hear Monte Vista down in San Diego. The fires that we have here where I live are usually Hot & fast. The yellow grass is just go up so fast and usually by the next day it's pretty much down to little activity. It's up near Idyllwild when the fire gets going that it kind of sinks its teeth in. Or over on the other side of Lake Elsinore up near the Ortega Highway.

This is a lot to learn real quick. I'm learning that there's the county fire department, Cal Fire, and then there's the forest service. And it seems like they all crossover and not just as Mutual Aid which I'm more than familiar with mutual Aid policies. It's like their service area is weave in and out of each other's. It seems like they all go there and figure out whose area it is and then they set up I guess it's called a comm plan so I have to keep straight Cal Fire from Forest Service. But it seems like Cal Fire stays on their own frequencies and Forest Service stays on their own and like the Chiefs in the middle relay back and forth. It seems about stupid.

They do the same thing up in the San Bernardino Mountains that I've only had a couple of chances to go hiking in. That's what got me started posting here was the Forest Falls area. They'd have a rescue and they would have multiple agencies there assisting. I used to LAPD. We almost never called CHP or County Sheriff for help.

So... I looked at the list you linked to me and then I looked at the list of Cal Fire and all the Tactical channels they have and it's like I'm blown away.
To show the juxtaposition of jurisdictions involved in the Apple Fire, take a look at the daily ops map for the fire:

Apple Fire Ops Map for 8-3-20

Some of the scattered portions of the San Bernardino National Forest are actually in the original forest boundary as issued in an Executive Order or later a Congressional bill. Some of these don't have National Forest land in them and some do. A current copy of the SBNF visitor map shows these. Those that do have NF lands in them, might have protection by Cal Fire by contract from the USFS. Notice the blue color on the map, I think it indicates these contract areas or current SRA . Then there are the green colored USFS protection areas (FRA). Some of the land in green is actually private and protection provided by the USFS by contract with Cal Fire. This is done to reduce the complexity of the jurisdictional situation and requires a current version of the SBNF map to understand. The white is under local protection (LRA) and would include a number of departments in that area.

Most of the fires we've listened to over there establish who is going to be the lead agency, the frequencies and the primary dispatch center (ordering point) fairly quickly. I've got some audio recordings from online scanner links (now Broadcastify) archives for one closer to San Berdo where things were much better. I was surprised to hear you describe something different.
 
Top