What the HEC is that in the sky?

Wildland firefighters from Alberta Wildfire take to the sky for Human External Cargo training.

If you happened to be looking into the skies over the Slave Lake Forest area on April 26th and 27th, your eyes may take in an unfamiliar sight.

No, it’s not a bird, it’s not a plane, and it’s not quite Superman. It’s wildland firefighters from Alberta Wildfire hanging from and being transported by using specialized equipment attached to a long line. The technique is called Human External Cargo (HEC), and Alberta Wildfire is conducting a trial using two firefighting crews in the Slave Lake Forest Area this wildfire season. The HEC system will be tested for its effectiveness of deploying and extracting firefighters on wildfires.

The dual hook, pilot-controlled system, developed by Boost Human External Cargo Systems, is already used by Parks Canada for its Search and Rescue teams, and is also used for worker placement, mountain rescue, and law enforcement purposes. The system consists of a long line anchored to a helicopter that can transport, insert and extract up to five people, or 500 kg, and is fully certified by Transport Canada and the Federal Aviation Authority.

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