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Israel Air Force: Aerial Fire-Fighting Unit

In early December 2010, a blazing fire began to spread wildly out of control through the Carmel Forest in Northern Israel. Unfortunately, Israel lacked the resources to control the blaze and over the course of a number of days the fire continued to burn, finally eradicating more than 750 acres of forest and resulting in the deaths of 44 people, including firemen, police officers, and prison service cadets on their way to evacuate inmates at a prison near the fire. Seventeen countries responded promptly to Israel's call for assistance and generously gave aid, including the use of firefighting planes to extinguish the flames from above.

In the aftermath of this disaster, the Israel Defense Forces tasked the Air Force with strengthening the national firefighting abilities by creating a new Aerial Fire-Fighting Unit. On March 31, 2011, less than four months after the fire, Lt. Col. Rami was made commander of the new firefighting unit and in May of the same year the unit was officially inaguarated during a ceremonial reception.

Said Lt. Col. Rami: "The ability to put out a fire from the air is needed both on a routine basis and during times of emergency ... The purpose of the Aerial Firefighting unit is command, preparation, control and monitoring aerial firefighting for the State of Israel. Our role is to operate the aerial firefighting, launch the planes, make sure they get to the right place at the right time and to control them."

Added Brigadier General Nimrod Shefer, Air Force Chief of Staff: "The Aerial Firefighting unit will significantly improve the firefighting system in Israel and our ability to deal with cases similar to the Carmel fire in the future."

The unit consists of seven "Air Tractor F-802" aircrafts from Spain that are permanently stationed at the Sde Dov Airport. Each of these planes has one engine; can fly three hours without refueling and is capable of carrying nearly 3,000 liters of water.

On May 19, 2011, just a week about its inauguration, the Aerial Fire-Fighting Unit was deployed to stop its first fire after ground firefighting forces were unable to enter a mine field where a blaze had begun. The unit's planes sortied the 99 acre field eight times in the span of three and a half hours to put out the blaze.

On December 1, 2011, a year after the Carmel disaster, the Aerial Fire-Fighting Unit held a two-day drill designed to test its ability to contain small fires when working with Israel Fire and Rescue Services‬, Israel Nature and Parks Authority and Jewish National Fund.

In its less than one year of existence, the unit has already succesfully tackled over 150 fires.

Sources: Israel Defense Forces: (Feb 28, 2011); (May 19, 2011)
IDF Spokesperson: (Dec 13, 2010); (Dec 1, 2011)
Israeli Air Force: (March 31, 2011)