Fire Facts: What is a sling load?

Alaska is a large state covering more than 663,000-square miles. Much of the state has limited access due to a lack of maintained roads and vast areas of wilderness. Helicopters are one of the primary options to assist firefighters responding over great distances into remote areas.

Helicopter transporting cargo via “sling load”.

Firefighters are not the only resources needed to fight a wildfire. Each member of the crew has equipment they carry with them, but they also need items such as pumps, hoses, and portable tanks to hold water. Without reliable road access these items cannot be delivered to their location by ground transportation.

Helicopters often utilize a swivel, rope, and netting to carry large amounts of equipment to these remote areas. The swivel attaches the rope to the bottom of the aircraft and extends down to a large net where crew members place all kinds of materials including equipment, fuel, and food. 

A person standing on a dirt field

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Helitack crew securing cargo for a “sling load” operation to the field.

The National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) defines this type of delivery as a sling load. Sling loads play an important role in ensuring firefighters have the support they need to fight a fire in areas where there are no roads, roads are impassable, or the time and risk are too great to transport by ground. 

Anytime helicopters are used to fight fire or support firefighters on the ground, there can be risks. Flying with a rope and heavy load attached to the bottom of the aircraft requires specially trained personnel to ensure safety for everyone involved.

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