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Air National Guard unit ready to fight wildfires and save lives

Senior Airman Sean Pellaton, an HH-60G flight engineer from the 129th Rescue Wing, California Air National Guard, pulls a water bucket hoist. The aircrews were training with water buckets, becoming the only crews certified for firefighting suppression duty in the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Barbara Apkarian)

Senior Airman Sean Pellaton, an HH-60G flight engineer from the 129th Rescue Wing, California Air National Guard, pulls a water bucket hoist. The aircrews were training with water buckets, becoming the only crews certified for firefighting suppression duty in the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Barbara Apkarian)

An HH-60G Pave Hawk from the 129th Rescue Wing, California Air National Guard, hovers over a pond near Sacramento, Calif. July 2.  The aircrews were training with water buckets, becoming the only crews certified for firefighting suppression duty in the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Barbara Apkarian)

An HH-60G Pave Hawk from the 129th Rescue Wing, California Air National Guard, hovers over a pond near Sacramento, Calif. July 2. The aircrews were training with water buckets, becoming the only crews certified for firefighting suppression duty in the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Barbara Apkarian)

An HH-60G Pave Hawk from the 129th Rescue Wing, California Air National Guard, flies with a water bucket attached near Sacramento, Calif. July 2. The aircrews were training with water buckets, becoming the only crews certified for firefighting suppression duty in the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Barbara Apkarian)

An HH-60G Pave Hawk from the 129th Rescue Wing, California Air National Guard, flies with a water bucket attached near Sacramento, Calif. July 2. The aircrews were training with water buckets, becoming the only crews certified for firefighting suppression duty in the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Barbara Apkarian)

An HH-60G Pave Hawk from the 129th Rescue Wing, California Air National Guard, flies with a water bucket attached near Sacramento, Calif. July 2.  The aircrews were training with water buckets, becoming the only crews certified for firefighting suppression duty in the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Barbara Apkarian)

An HH-60G Pave Hawk from the 129th Rescue Wing, California Air National Guard, flies with a water bucket attached near Sacramento, Calif. July 2. The aircrews were training with water buckets, becoming the only crews certified for firefighting suppression duty in the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Barbara Apkarian)

An HH-60G Pave Hawk from the 129th Rescue Wing, California Air National Guard, releases water from an attached bucket near Sacramento, Calif. July 2. The aircrews were training with water buckets, becoming the only crews certified for firefighting suppression duty in the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Barbara Apkarian)

An HH-60G Pave Hawk from the 129th Rescue Wing, California Air National Guard, releases water from an attached bucket near Sacramento, Calif. July 2. The aircrews were training with water buckets, becoming the only crews certified for firefighting suppression duty in the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Barbara Apkarian)

MATHER FIELD, Calif. -- Crews from the California Air National Guard's 129th Rescue Wing were certified to perform water bucket operations here Wednesday, becoming the only rescue unit in the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard qualified to fight fires.

The certification is timely as it coincides with an early start to the fire season in Northern California, which is where the 129th RQW is based.

The aircrews and Pave Hawks have been on temporary duty here in support of Operation Lightning Strike - the California National Guard's firefighting support mission. While the equipment modifications and required training were being accomplished, the unit has maintained a continuous alert posture for search and rescue and high risk medical evacuations.

The 129th Rescue Wing is the lead wing for HH-60G Pave Hawk water bucket certification efforts, according to Lt. Col. Steve Butow, 129th Operations Group Director. The training, equipment modifications, and certification process will lay the groundwork for other combat search and rescue wings to obtain water bucket certification.

"Joint firefighting operations are analogous to the joint combat search and rescue operating environment our crews will experience in combat environments," said Lt. Col. Daniel Lapostole, 129th Rescue Squadron Commander. "The training value is unmatched."

The training the aircrews received is in accordance with the California Interagency Military Helicopter Firefighting Program and was provided by certified CAL FIRE instructors.

"Operation of the water bucket can be quickly learned by operators with no prior experience," said Maj. Matt Thomas, 129th Rescue Squadron Director of Operations.

The crew and aircraft are now certified to utilize the 660 gallon capacity water bucket. The bucket is rigged for use with the cargo hook, and water is released via a contact "pickle" switch.

Once the crew receives their orders to perform fire duty, maintainers must remove the internal auxiliary tank, install a radio and release switches, and then paint the aircraft with required markings. The water bucket is attached once on scene. Simultaneously, the crews maintain airborne SAR alert.

The HH-60Gs also have an aerial refueling capability that allows Airmen to perform longer rescue and firefighting support missions. The aerial refueling is accomplished by the 129th RQW's MC-130P Combat Shadow tankers.

"Airmen from the 129th are motivated and ready to assist their neighbors in fighting the fires here in California," said Col. Amos Bagdasarian, 129th Rescue Wing Commander. "Our search and rescue mission, coupled with the fire bucket certification, adds to the state's broad range of fire fighting capabilities."