Sheriff’s RAVEN Helicopter Reaches First Year Anniversary as a Fire Fighter

Reno, NV…On July 6, 2011, the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office RAVEN program received a Letter of Authorization from the Department of Interior to use their RAVEN 3 Huey helicopter to fly fire suppression missions on BLM lands.

Within 24 hours that authorization, or “Carding,” RAVEN 3 was dropping water on a brush fire off Gardella Avenue north of downtown Reno.

“The first fire is still the most memorable,” Chief Pilot Deputy Doug Russell said. “The approach was challenging because of power lines and time was short due to the approaching darkness. We knew we had a new and important role as part of the initial attack on the fire and wanted to ensure that we got the job done right.”

RAVEN dropped nearly 2,000 gallons of water on the Gardella Avenue fire before sunset, helping to protect homes in the area and contain the fire to a vacant hillside above U.S. 395.

In the year since, the Sheriff’s RAVEN 3 helicopter and crew have dropped nearly 80,000 gallons of water on more than 25 wild land fires.

“We all appreciate that the first few moments of a firefight can be the most critical and are very proud of the positive impact the RAVEN program has had on the initial response to over two dozen local wildfires during the last year,” Washoe County Sheriff Michael Haley said. “They do this in addition to all their other duties, from supporting their fellow law enforcement personnel who are working on the ground, to Search and Rescue missions where lives are at stake and time is of the essence.”

RAVEN’s Chief Tactical Flight Officer Deputy Larry Lodge, said that it’s the diversity of service to the public that makes his job so satisfying. “In one day we can be involved in a variety of missions such as a SWAT operation, fighting a fire or helping protect a visiting dignitary,” Deputy Lodge said. “The entire crew gets a great deal of personal satisfaction from knowing that we benefit the public in so many ways.”

Chief Pilot Russell agrees “Every time I start up that helicopter, I know that I’m off to do something important that is going to make a difference in people’s lives,” he said.

Deputies Russell and Lodge will be participating in next week’s national Airborne Law Enforcement Association Conference and Exposition at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center. On Monday they will be assisting with the “fly-in” of various aircraft taking part in the convention and available to talk with media about their first year of fire suppression operations.

The RAVEN crew consists of Program Supervisor Sergeant Ralph Caldwell, Chief Pilot Deputy Doug Russell, Chief Tactical Flight Officer Deputy Larry Lodge, Pilot Sepple Baumann, Pilot Nick Lopes, Tactical Flight Officer Brandon Zirkle, Tactical Flight Officer George Rutter and Mechanic Mo Bessiere.

The success of the fire suppression program is a collaborative effort with our local fire partners which include Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District, The Sierra Fire Protection District, The North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District, The Reno Fire Department and the Washoe County Fire Suppression Coordinator.

The Washoe County Sheriff’s Office celebrated 150 years of proud service and community partnership in 2011. Sheriff Michael Haley is the 25th person elected to serve as the Sheriff of Washoe County. His office continues to be the only full service public safety agency operating within northern Nevada and is responsible for operating the consolidated detention facility, regional crime lab, Northern Nevada Counter Terrorism Center, Internet Crimes against Children Task Force, court security, service of civil process, traditional street patrols and Regional Animal Services.