Geography and technology matter to public safety
Working as a helicopter pilot can take you into many different industries, all over the world. Helicopter pilot opportunities include training, offshore support, law enforcement, agriculture, pipeline and utility support, sightseeing, executive transport, fishing, EMS (Emergency Medical Services), search and rescue, logging, test piloting, and firefighting.
The Los Angeles City Fire Department's Air Operations unit (LAFD Air Operations) http://lafd.org/airops.htm has been operating since 1962. Its primary task is to provide rapid response to situations such as emergency rescue, wildfire, and emergency medical transport. The pilots at Air Operations undergo a rigorous screening and training regimen before they are certified to fly for the Fire Department. The initial training program consists of 200 hours of instruction in basic operations, mountain terrain, heavy load operations, confined space landing, and aircraft emergencies. During the initial training phase, the pilots are continually tested through "check rides" which measure their skill and proficiency in all phases of helicopter operations.
The success rate for initial training is approximately 33%. Once the initial training is completed, the pilot must fly an additional 300 hours to build skills and proficiency. The Department's helicopters are staffed 24 hours a day and stand ready to respond to any emergency throughout the City.
Geography and technology matter to public safety
Generally, our lives and the world around us are predictable. However, we also live in a world of change, the unexpected, and, at times, danger. A brilliant blue sky becomes a thunderous storm with serious flooding. The ground below our feet quakes toppling buildings. A tiny spark turns into huge wild land fire engulfing forests and homes. A tanker car derails putting deadly fumes into the atmosphere. And, difficult to believe, some people inflict disaster on others on small and large scales. While our first line of protection in these instances is ourselves or our friends and family, at times we need help from others-- persons involved with public safety, such as firefighters, emergency managers, law enforcement officials, or persons in related fields.
Public safety occupations have at their core a mission of dealing with situations where life, property, and/or the environment are at risk. The tasks persons in these positions tackle involve many skills. One you may not think of right away is geographic thinking.
What? Yes, geography.
When we see a helicopter dropping a load of flame retardant on a spreading brush fire, or watch fire equipment racing off to a location, or hear evacuation alerts because of toxics in the air miles away, we probably don't think about it but underneath these actions is geography and spatial thinking. For instance:
Also, public safety is not only about responding to emergencies. What if you could prevent a calamity from happening? This means being able to assess various kinds of threats, anticipate problems, prepare for natural and human catastrophes and how to handle them. Being able to literally map out and analyze this range of tasks is a key to public safety because geography is part of all of them. Geographic thinking and spatial awareness are then critical skills regardless of the specific public safety occupation.
While we all carry maps around in our heads and have paper ones, public safety officials are making use of high-tech tools and approaches. Geographic information systems (GIS) are at the foundation of a series of geospatial technologies, which also include remote sensing (RS) , and global positioning systems (GPS).
GIS and other geospatial technologies are providing firefighters, emergency managers, safety inspectors, and a host of other positions with the abilities to answer all the questions noted above -- and many more.
A place to see GIS in action in various public safety careers is the Esri Public Safety Program.
Some information provided by the U.S. Dept. of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, and The Professional Helicopter Pilots Association.
Geographic and GIS skills
Helicopter pilots must hold a commercial pilot's certificate with a helicopter rating. To qualify for this license, applicants must be at least 18 years old and have at least 250 hours of flight experience. The experience required can be reduced through participation in certain flight school curricula approved by the FAA. Applicants also must pass a strict physical examination to make sure that they are in good health and have 20/20 vision with or without glasses, good hearing, and no physical handicaps that could impair their performance. They must pass a written test that includes questions on the principles of safe flight, navigation techniques, and FAA regulations, and must demonstrate their flying ability to FAA or designated examiners.
The typical license progression moves through Student, Private, Commercial, and Certified Flight Instructor (CFI). Many pilots acquire their instrument rating between Private and Commercial licenses. The instrument rating, though not mandatory for some jobs, is increasingly becoming either a significant benefit or requirement for many of the better jobs. It also will make the pilot a better one.
A commercial rotorcraft license requires that the pilot have 150 total hours, minimum, and 100 PIC (Pilot in Command) time. PIC time is earned flying solo in the pursuit of a Private License and any time, after attaining a Private License, where the person is acting as the pilot of the helicopter, even while receiving flight instruction.
Most introductory pilot jobs require the pilot to have somewhere between 500 and 1000 hours piloting the helicopter. The first job for most new helicopter pilots is as a flight instructor where one gains valuable flight experience while enhancing commercial piloting skills. Other entry-level positions include aerial photography and scenic flights.
Included with the technical skills is being geographically savvy. Bad geographic choices can result in disaster whether flying or on the ground.
Geographic and GIS Skills:
Being geographically literate means much more than just knowing a range of geographic facts. Key geographic skills include not only being able to answer the question where -- but also why, how, who, and what. Whether an air ops pilot or a firefighter on the ground the questions are the same. Where is the fire incident located? Why is it advancing here but not there? How do we evacuate the area and who gets notified? What is our overall plan of attack? And, inside each question are others focusing on patterns, relationships, and interactions.
Learn more about geography and geographic career opportunities at the careers site of the Association of American Geographers.
In an array of public safety occupations, geographic visualization and analysis skills are more important than ever before. With various natural and human-made challenges facing us, key public safety staff need strong technical skills including information technology areas of database applications, modeling, geospatial technologies -- GIS, remote sensing, and GPS -- and other tools. To see more clearly how these skills fit into public safety activities, investigate the Esri Public Safety Program.
Also, investigate a range of GIS and geospatial career and skill requirements at GIS.com's Career page.
Salary levels for helicopter pilots vary greatly by industry, country, qualifications, and experience levels.
According to PayScale.com, helicopter pilots can earn anywhere between $48,000 per year to $118,000 per year. The median annual salary of a helicopter pilot was $73,000.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, firefighters earned anywhere between $24,000 and $83,570 per year. The median annual salary of a firefighter was $49,080.
The variance in firefighters' pay is due to differences in location of employment and rank.