The City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to spend $9.8 million to buy a firefighting helicopter, boosting the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department’s aerial fleet to three.

A Los Angeles County Fire Department Sikorsky S70i Firehawk helicopter makes a water drop. Photo by Douglas Morrison via

The Sikorsky S-70i will fly faster and carry more than twice the payload of water or retardant than the SDFRD’s current choppers, which were built by Bell in 1980 and 2008, said Chief Brian Fennessy.

He told the council members that the condition of the older craft is concerning.

“It has been showing signs of that age,” Fennessy said. “It’s out of service more and more every year.”

Because of maintenance down time and the need for inspections, purchasing a new helicopter means that two choppers will be available at all times, which isn’t the case now, he said.

“We need larger, more capable aircraft to drop more product,” Fennessy said.

The Sikorsky helicopter, built by a Lockheed Martin unit and called a Firehawk, is also big enough to pull firefighting crews out of areas that become dangerous, he said. Cal Fire is planning to buy a dozen of them, according to the chief.

The existing helicopters were both used extensively last week to fight the Lilac Fire near Bonsall, particularly during the nighttime hours.

The council separately approved using bond revenues to fund a $13.7 million hangar for its helicopters that will include living and office space. The facility will be built at Montgomery-Gibbs Executive Airport.

— City News Service

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