An MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopter, assigned to the "Sea Dragons" of Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron (HM) 12, performs aerial firefighting training exercises using a 1,300 gallon Bambi Bucket Sept. 3, 2020. The HL-5000 Bambi Bucket is a portable and flexible tool designed to facilitate helicopter aerial firefighting and is capable of holding 11,000 pounds of water. This is the first time in history that Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadrons have conducted aerial firefighting and HM-12, HM-14 and HM-15 are currently the only squadrons providing a Navy helicopter aerial firefighting capability on the East Coast.


Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron (HM) 12 successfully tested, trained, and qualified their squadron and aircrew from three separate squadrons on the use of the Bambi Bucket to support aerial firefighting missions, if tasked, on the East Coast, Oct. 8.

The MH-53E is the only rotary aircraft in the U.S. Navy with the capability to airlift a large-scale bucket of this size, which weighs 11,000 pounds when transporting water.

“The East Coast now has the aerial firefighting capability to provide airborne fire suppression efforts when called upon,” said Lt. Cmdr. Jeffrey Spencer, HM-12 pilot. “This airborne firefighting training is similar to other mission areas to include lifting of heavy equipment, and cast and recovery in support of expeditionary forces.”

Spencer added that the capability HM-12 brings would be a game changer if called upon. For aerial firefighting support, the bucket is capable of transporting 1,300 gallons.

“Sailors from three different Helicopter Mine Countermeasures squadrons provided the necessary expertise to execute the required training in September,” said Spencer.  “We qualified eight crews, and now have the capability to provide two aircraft with buckets for firefighting response efforts.”

Master Chief Naval Air Crewman (Helicopters) Lance Howarth (NAC/AW/SW) emphasized the proper storage of these buckets more than 14 years ago enabled the squadron to start training. 

“With more than 14 years of time passed since actively using this capability on the East Coast prior to the disestablishment of Helicopter Combat Support Squadron 4, there were no airborne firefighting qualified pilots assigned on the East Coast,” said Howarth, who had civilian experience aerial fighting fires prior during a break in his naval service.  “However, aircrewmen still serving in the community had experience flying these missions and we were able to leverage that experience.”

HM-12 is tasked to support two primary missions, Airborne Mine Counter Measure (AMCM) mission and the Navy Vertical Onboard Delivery (VOD) mission to support expeditionary forces.

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