MAFFS: Through the years, supporting fire suppression around the U.S.

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Tiffany Lundberg
  • 302nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

In 1973, the Air Force took on the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System special mission to help the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service combat wildland fires across the nation.

During the last 45 years, MAFFS participating wings have changed, but overall provide the same surge support when called upon by the USDA Forest Service through the National Interagency Fire Center.

The current participating wings include the California Air National Guard’s 146th Airlift Wing, the Nevada ANG’s 152nd AW, the Wyoming ANG’s 153rd AW and the Air Force Reserve’s 302nd AW, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. The 302nd AW has supported the MAFFS mission for the past 25 years.

The numbers represent totals for the 45 years the Air Force has supported the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service’s Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System mission, according to the MAFFS Air Expeditionary Group statistics. The MAFFS AEG is comprised of three Air National Guard wings and one Air Force Reserve wing.. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Staff Sgt. Tiffany Lundberg)

“Today, the four wings are located throughout the Western U.S. in regions prone to drought and wildfires,” said Lt. Col. Brad Ross, 302nd Operations Group MAFFS operations chief.

“It’s a rewarding mission for us to be a part of because we have an immediate effect and response to be able to prevent or mitigate the effects of a wildland fire,” he said. “And, because we are prone to those events in this area of the country, I think it is important to have those assets here and available when we are needed.”

From MAFFS’ beginnings in 1973 until September 2018, when federally activated, the four wings were requested to provide support 34 out of the 45 years. During which they dedicated over 12,237 hours, dropped 31 million gallons of retardant on wildfires and flew 11,707 sorties, according to MAFFS Air Expeditionary Group statistics.

The Waldo Canyon fire, just west of Colorado Springs, in June 2012 kicked off a record-setting year for the MAFFS mission. All four of the MAFFS wings were activated and supported fires not only in Colorado but also California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. They dedicated a total of 888 hours and dropped 2.4 million gallons of retardant that year -- approximately double the amount of retardant dropped each year during the prior 10 years.

Not even a year after the Waldo Canyon fire, the 302nd AW was activated on June 12, 2013 for multiple fires in Colorado, including the Black Forest fire northeast of Colorado Springs.

Tech. Sgt. Tanya Keller, a 302nd Maintenance Group Plans, Scheduling and Documentation production controller, was a MAFFS crew chief during the Black Forest fire when MAFFS-equipped C-130 Hercules aircraft and aircrews were called to action.

“The planes would come into ‘the pit,’ as they call it, and one person would be on the front concord getting the aircraft refueled while maintenance specialists would be in the back cleaning off any retardant while other people were hooking up hoses to the MAFFS tanks to refill them -- it literally is like a [racetrack] pit,” she said. “The plane rolls in and we could do the complete changeover in 10-15 minutes. Whether we are home or deployed (to another state) we do a similar set up. “But to actually be here and see the effect on the fire so close by -- it was amazing.”

The pride and support of the 302nd AW reservists go beyond their own backyards and is extended when they are called to other states.

“In years past, when the fires were really bad, all four wings have gone to one location, normally California, to fight fires,” said Master Sgt. Thomas Freeman, 731st Airlift Squadron evaluator MAFFS loadmaster, who has been part of the MAFFS mission throughout its tenure at the 302nd AW. “We see the guys from that area and we know they have friends that are being affected. It’s good to be able to support them.”

This year, reservists from the Colorado Springs-based wing helped contain wildfires in Colorado and California.

“We execute the mission very well and we are very proud of that,” said Ross. “We put a lot of effort and training into making sure we do the best job we can because it’s a critical mission.”

Editor’s note: This story is part of a 302nd AW Public Affairs series recognizing the 302nd AW’s MAFFS mission during its 25th anniversary supporting this special C-130 mission at Peterson AFB, Colorado.