Reach and Sonoma County Fire District partner in new emergency service helicopter

Last month, the fire district began using Sonoma County 1, a Reach Air Medical Services aircraft available as part of a partnership between the two outfits.|

The next time Sonoma County Fire District firefighters respond to a remote blaze, don’t be surprised if a helicopter shows up before ground crews.

Last month, the fire district began using Sonoma County 1, a Reach Air Medical Services aircraft available as part of a partnership between the two outfits.

The burgundy Eurocopter H135 twin engine helicopter is based at Charles M. Schulz–Sonoma County Airport and is going to be used for transporting patients to hospitals.

Sacramento-based Reach is one of the largest air ambulance operators in the western U.S.

“It’s a great partnership between the two entities,” Sonoma County Fire District Chief Mark Heine said. “For me, I get a free firefighting helicopter at no additional cost to the taxpayers.”

The Fire District formed in 2019 and its coverage area includes Bodega Bay, Guerneville, Forestville, Windsor, Bennett Valley and Rincon Valley.

During a wildfire, the aircraft can be equipped with a bucket to carry up to 120 gallons of water to douse flames. It will also be used for reconnaissance missions.

Earlier this month, Heine said, the helicopter arrived at a grass fire at Airport Boulevard and Highway 101 before ground crews.

The helicopter crew, including the pilot, is employed by Reach, although a Sonoma County Fire District command officer will be on board during firefighting missions.

The agreement between the two agencies has no termination date and Heine said the fire district will be using the helicopter indefinitely.

Sonoma 1 is “a natural extension” of Reach’s long relationship with the Fire District, Sean Russell, Pacific Region president for Reach’s parent company, Global Medical Response, said in a statement.

After the 2017 Tubbs Fire ravaged Santa Rosa, Reach leaders believed their fleet “could provide much-needed support beyond lifesaving air medical transports, specifically aerial observation and command, evacuation support and fire suppression,” Russell said.

Beyond that, the company did not address what it was in place to earn out of its partnership with the Sonoma County Fire District.

The helicopter may play a role in the fire district’s pending bid to serve as the next ambulance provider for much of central Sonoma County. That lucrative contract is currently held by American Medical Response, or AMR.

The contract is out to bid and Heine previously said his agency is capable of fulfilling the needs of the service area, spanning Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, Rohnert Park, Cotati and surrounding unincorporated areas.

The helicopter is among the tools that will come into play during emergencies, Heine said this week.

“It’s a huge part,” he said.

At least one other heavy piece of equipment may be on the way next year.

The Fire District recently secured a $571,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Port Security Grant Program for a boat that can be used during emergencies along the coast.

“We’re writing the specifications for the new boat right now. Maybe by the end of 2023, that will be in operation,” Heine said.

You can reach Staff Writer Colin Atagi at colin.atagi@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @colin_atagi

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