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In Old Town, Governor Mills Unveils State’s New Helicopter to Fight Forest Fires, Assist with Search & Rescue Missions

Newly-acquired helicopter replaces one that was more than 50 years old

Old Town, MAINE – Governor Janet Mills today unveiled the State's newly acquired Bell 407 helicopter that will be used by the Maine Forest Service (MFS) to fight forest fires and assist in search and rescue missions.

The helicopter was purchased in June 2022 and recently arrived at the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry's (DACF) MFS Aviation Branch headquarters in Old Town. The helicopter is equipped and ready for service activation this month.

The Legislature approved Governor Mills’ budget request to update the aging arial fleet that MFS relies on to do their work. The helicopter, which cost $2.8 million, replaces an MFS helicopter that is more than 50 years old.

“Upgrading the Maine Forest Service’s aging helicopter fleet is an investment in the safety of our forests and our people,” said Governor Janet Mills. “Maine is one of the most heavily forested states in the nation, which means that we need to be ready on a dime to protect that resource and to assist in search and rescue efforts to save lives. This new helicopter will help us do just that.” 

“Transitioning the MFS aging air fleet is essential to supporting the ongoing capability of the MFS Forest Protection Aviation Branch,”said Amanda Beal, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. “The Bell 407 provides safety and dependability for our Forest Rangers and our partners at the State Police, Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and others who rely on this important resource.”

The helicopter is part of the MFS Forest Protection Aviation Branch and will be used for fire detection and firefighting, dropping water, and moving firefighters and equipment to rural and remote locations quickly. 

It also will be used to support other State and local agencies, such as Maine State Police, Game Wardens, Marine Patrol Officers, and Baxter State Park Rangers, with search and rescue missions, aiding in the rescue of injured people in remote areas where emergency medical services are difficult to access.

The Governor was joined by lawmakers, officials from the DACF, the Maine Department of Inland Fish and Wildlife, and Maine State Police, as well as landowners and representatives of the forest industry. 

The Forest Protection Aviation Branch flies more than 400 missions per year, transporting firefighters and thousands of pounds of supplies, and dropping water on fires.

In 2021, the Maine Forest Service dropped more than 91,000 gallons of water on fires and carried 269 firefighters. In addition to firefighting, the fleet has conducted 104 aerial inspections of logging sites 22 interagency searches or manhunts with Maine State Police, Game Wardens, and local fire departments. The Aviation Branch also utilizes aircraft to assist other agencies with transport for important scientific sampling and surveying efforts that help conserve and maintain the state’s natural resources.

The Aviation Branch fleet includes five UH-1H (Huey) utility helicopters, two Bell 407 helicopters, and three fixed-wing airplanes. The fleet is maintained by four mechanics and flown by five pilots. More information about the MFS Aviation Branch is available online.

Photo 1: Patty Cormier, Director of MFS; Amanda Beal, Commissioner of DACF; Chief Ranger Pilot John Crowley; and Chief Ranger, Colonel Robby Gross.

Photo 2: Gov. Mills sits inside newly-acquired Bell 407 helicopter for MFS.