Suzanne Guldimann is an author, artist, and musician who lives in Malibu and loves the Santa Monica Mountains. She has worked as a journalist reporting…
69 Bravo, the critically important fire fighting helistop base high in the mountains above Topanga, has received some important improvements, just in time for peak fire season.
The base, which has four helipads, and four water tanks—officially known as “pumpkins”—used to refill firefighting helicopters, has already proven to be an invaluable asset for firefighters. The improvements make it even more efficient.
In 2019, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a plan to acquire and upgrade the 34-acre facility located on two mountain peaks. Over the past nine months, multiple improvements have been made, thanks to private donations and a county grant.
At the suggestion of the Los Angeles County Fire department, 69 Bravo now has a fully automated system to completely fill all four on-site pumpkins without the need for a County Fire engine company to be initially dispatched to the site.
The pumpkins enable fire-fighting aircraft like the County’s “FireHawk” and Sikorsky helicopters to tank up on water without wasting critical time flying out of the mountains. The new system automatically fills each of the pumpkins and the 10,000-gallon storage tank with water from 69 Bravo’s private well, giving fire fighters immediate and continuous access to more than 43,000 gallons of water, without the need for anyone to be onsite to initiate the filling process.
The automation system is monitored and independently controlled with the dedicated “69 Bravo Water” app, designed, engineered, and built specifically for the emergency responders who use the base. The app provides real time access to 69 Bravo’s cameras; instant weather data from the base’s weather station; remote control of lighting for the helipads and wind sock; real-time water usage statistics from each pumpkin and the helipads; an emergency 1,000 gallon manual fill of any pumpkin as a backup; and automatic dust control for the area surrounding pumpkins and helipads that can be activated before fire fighting helicopters arrive.
A “find 69 Bravo’ function can be used by any County Fire Crew dispatched to 69 Bravo who might not be familiar with the Santa Monica Mountains and 69 Bravo’s remote, mountain-top location.
The base now also has a “media command center,” housed in converted cargo containers and equipped with a copper-wire landline, backup satellite phone, and satellite and fiber optic internet and wifi to help provide accurate, up-to-date information to local television stations and news helicopters. In a fire event, the center will provide simultaneous visual access to every TV station’s helicopter coverage with direct phone line accessibility to the respective TV station’s assignment desk which, in turn, will help control the helicopters’ coverage of the fire in real time.
The command center doubles as a helicopter pilot rest station or auxiliary helicopter base, where pilots can land and take a break without having to fly out of the mountains.
With the help of Supervisor’s Sheila Kuehl’s office, T-CEP has installed a 21KW propane generator at 69 Bravo with the capacity to run non-stop for four days without refueling.
There is an additional backup to the generator consisting of an “Auxiliary Battery Power Source” (APU) with the capability to run the entire Media Command Center for at least two hours.
The base also received high definition-megapixel cameras with recording capability of up to two weeks, and a new 30-foot tower designed to tilt to the ground for periodic maintenance of the cameras, antennas, microwave dishes and the weather station.
Future upgrades include plans to replace all four rubber pumpkins with four 8,000 gallon open-top metal water tanks.
The first metal tank was custom designed and installed at 69 Bravo just in time for a real-life test during the “Topanga Incident” fire on September 8. Over 19,000 gallons were taken out of the new metal tank to fight the Topanga fire, which auto filled flawlessly.
The remaining three vinyl pumpkins will be replaced with the new metal pumpkins within the next few months at no cost to the Los Angeles County Fire Department or Los Angeles County.
With fire season no longer limited to the hottest driest part of the year, and increased risk of fire in the Santa Monica Mountains, 69 Bravo is an increasingly indispensable resource that is critically important to keep Topanga and its neighboring communities safe.
Learn more about 69 Bravo, or check out the base’s 360-degree, 24-7 high resolution fire camera, at http://www.69bravo.com