Thomas Aquinas College builds helipad to assist in fighting wildfires

Jonah McKeown   By Jonah McKeown for CNA


A Ventura County Fire Department Firehawk on the helispot recently installed on the campus of Thomas Aquinas College, outside Santa Paula, Calif. / Photo courtesy Thomas Aquinas College

Los Angeles, Calif., Dec 8, 2021 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

Four years after a massive wildfire threatened the school, a Catholic college in southern California has installed a helipad on its campus, with the goal of assisting local firefighters.

Thomas Aquinas College, a university located near Santa Paula, California, recently unveiled a concrete helipad designed to accommodate the needs of a Firehawk helicopter. The local fire department christened the new pad with a training exercise on the afternoon of Dec. 7.

Ventura County owns two Firehawks, each of which has a rescue hoist, night vision capabilities, and the ability to drop 1,000 gallons of water or foam on a fire.

If a fire starts in the nearby mountains, the Firehawks will be able to refill their water tanks at the school’s helipad, saving them a longer trip to the town of Fillmore.

The local fire chief expressed gratitude to the school, noting that the refilling location closer to the mountains will mean “we can put more water on a fire while it’s small, giving it less time to spread.”

The 2017 Thomas Fire, named for the school, sparked in early December less than a mile from campus, and on its first day spread at a rate of one acre per second.

It ultimately burned nearly 300,000 acres, including hundreds of residences in the town of Ventura, making it the largest wildfire in state history up to that point.

“We have been honored to work with [the Ventura County Fire Department] ever since the college first came to Santa Paula in 1978, and we remember well the department’s heroic efforts during the Thomas Fire,” Mark Kretschmer, the college’s vice president for operations, said in a statement.

“We are delighted that, after assisting with Ventura County’s search-and-rescue operations for all these years, we can now contribute to its firefighting efforts as well.”

Though located on the southeastern corner of the school’s property, the school says the helipad is situated in such a way that ambulances and other rescue vehicles can access it without causing disruption to the campus.

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