Wenatchee Valley Airbase

Helicopter on ground at airbase at sunset

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Wenatchee Valley Airbase 2022-2023 Season

The Wenatchee Valley Airbase employs approximately 40 personnel between the Rappel and Short Haul programs. Annually, they have as many as four rotor-wing aircraft on exclusive-use contracts consisting of one Type 3 Helitack aircraft, one Type 2 Bell 205 Rappel aircraft, one Type 3 Short Haul aircraft, and one Type 3 Helitack aircraft. The primary missions of the Wenatchee Valley Airbase are wildfire initial attack, emergency medical short haul/medevac, and large fire support.

Airbase personnel traveled throughout the Western United States during the 2022 fire season. Beginning in mid-May, the Rappel Helicopter spent 7 weeks supporting the Coronado and Tonto National Forests, in the southwest, with initial and extended attack before relocating to Central Oregon to provide the same support there. As fire activity increased in Washington, the Rappel Helicopter eventually found its way back to Wenatchee and began support on various incidents on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest and North Cascades National Park. In addition to large fire support, the rappelers staffed several new fires on the Okanogan-Wenatchee, Gifford Pinchot, and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forests. Due to contracting setbacks in the spring of 2022, the Short Haul Program was without a certified helicopter to perform their short haul mission and instead, those personnel were relied upon heavily to staff the second Type 3 helicopter which spent a great deal of the season working in the Central Oregon Cascades.

While wildfire suppression is the primary focus of the Airbase, personnel and aircraft are regularly called upon to provide support to the Forest's prescribed fire program during the spring and fall. With several qualified Plastic Sphere Dispenser Operators, the Airbase is responsible for coordinating procurement of aircraft and operating the Plastic Sphere Dispenser for aerial ignition operations on prescribed burn projects.

For 2023, there will be a slightly different complement of aircraft hosted at the Wenatchee Airbase. A years-long effort to modernize the rappel aircraft fleet may come to fruition with the possibility of hosting a Eurocopter AS-332 Super Puma on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.  This new model helicopter allows a larger initial attack load of rappelers (8 versus 4 with the Bell 205 helicopter), faster cruise speed, longer range, and the added safety of a twin-engine configuration.  Additionally, there is a high likelihood that the Short Haul program will again have a certified short haul helicopter for 2023. 

Work Dates (tour of duty)

Each season, the Wenatchee Valley Airbase seeks quality employees to fill crew member positions for duty as a wildland firefighter and helicopter rappeller or short-hauler. The fire season typically starts in early May and ends in late October, depending upon the severity of the fire season and/or the need for rehabilitation of severe fires. Crew members are hired on a Not to Exceed 1039 hours in a 1-year basis as either a GS-462-04 or a GS-462-05, depending upon experience level and education.


The first five weeks of the season, starting at the end of April, will be dedicated to physical fitness, classroom and field training. This training will include annual mandatory fire related and non-fire related training and refreshers, S-271 and Interagency Helicopter Training. The last week of training will be dedicated rappel or short-haul academy. Trainees must demonstrate competence and proficiency in all aspects of the training to qualify as a rappeller/short-hauler. During the course of the season, other training courses may be offered to further the qualifications and career development of each individual which will be outlined on an Individual Development Plan (IDP). See Training Photos at right.

Selection Requirements

Successful applicants will meet each of the following requirements:

Be at least 18 years of age and have proof of US Citizenship

Pack 45 pounds for 3 miles in under 45 minutes

Everyone who considers themselves well suited for a position at the Wenatchee Valley Airbase is encouraged to apply. In reality, applicants with no experience are very rarely hired due to the large number of applicants with previous fire experience. Most inexperienced firefighters gain practical and field experience through working on engines, Type I Hotshot Crews or Type II hand crews before becoming to the airbase.

The Wenatchee Valley Airbase does not offer housing; however East Wenatchee, Wenatchee and surrounding areas offer plenty of housing. The average cost is $1000-$1200 for a two-bedroom one bath rental house. Apartments are also available from $750- $1000 for a one bed, one bath. Crewmembers will often collaborate to get a larger house to help keep costs affordable.

We are located at Pangborn Memorial Airport in East Wenatchee. The surrounding area offers a great number of recreational opportunities. There are numerous trails for hiking and mountain bike riding. The Wenatchee/ Okanogan forest area also offers a variety of rivers and lakes for fishing, water skiing, white water rafting and kayaking. There are also several areas that offer incredible rock climbing experiences.

Nondiscrimination notice: 
The USDA Forest Service and the Wenatchee Valley Airbase consider applicants without discrimination for any nonmerit reason such as race, color, religion, sex, national origin, politics, marital status, physical handicap, age, or membership or nonmembership in an employee organization.

Rapellers with airbase sign
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The crew was started in 1971 after the Wenatchee National Forest burned more than 130,000 acres in 1970. The crew used a Bell 205 helicopter, and had 10 crewmembers with a 9-person back up squad. In 1972 the crew was comprised of a Bell 205 helicopter and 10 crewmembers. In 1973 the program became rappel capable, and rappelled through 1982. The Forest opted not to rappel from 1983-1987, but a helitack crew remained in Chelan. In 1987 the rappelling program was reinstated and the crew grew to 14 crewmembers. In 1995 the rappel crew staffed one of the eight National Type 2 helicopters. The crew has since grown to 30 people. In 2000, the rappel crew moved from Chelan to East Wenatchee and became the Wenatchee Valley Rappel Crew.

In 2015, the Wenatchee Valley Rappellers hosted the first ever Forest Service Short-Haul Program. It has since evolved into its own program consisting of a 10-person crew, highly trained and specialized in emergency medical short-haul extraction. Today, the Wenatchee Valley Airbase consists of the Rappel and Short-Haul programs combined, operating four helicopters, and managing 37 crew members. Although the rappel crew and short-haul crew share the same roof, we do not cross train between the two programs, but continue to share an enormous amount of pride and uphold the highest standards of excellence.


 Rapeller firefighter in front of fire 


Physical Fitness Standards

Physical conditioning is at the heart of the Wenatchee Program. Applicants are strongly suggested to maintain a rigorous, structured physical training routine before the season starts and be prepared to describe their training schedule. Every member of the Wenatchee Valley Airbase is expected to arrive at work on the first day in excellent physical condition and be prepared to excel in a difficult physical training program.

Successful applicants will be working in a wide variety of strenuous, often times exhausting conditions. The fire environment is a very challenging and dynamic workplace and it is critical that applicants maintain a level of fitness necessary to perform their duties as a wildland firefighter.

Physical fitness and conditioning are absolute necessities for helicopter rappelling/short-hauling and fire suppression. We require that all employees meet rigorous levels of fitness. All employees on the rappel side of the Airbase are tested the first week and AT A MINIMUM, are expected to meet the following physical requirements:

  • 1½ Mile Run - 11 minutes or less
  • Pull-ups - 7 full extensions
  • Push-ups - 25 in 1 minute
  • 85 pound+ Pack Test - Over typical terrain
  • Work Capacity Test 45 pound Pack Test - carry a 45-pound pack for 3 miles in 45 minutes

These are minimum requirements. Physical training will occur twice daily during the first three weeks of the season and one to one and a half hours daily for the rest of the year. All applicants should be able to exceed these minimum requirements. These fitness goals are desired on the Rappel Crew; however, they are not conditions for hire. All successful applicants will be required to pass the Forest Service work capacity pack test (forty-five lbs. over three miles in under 45 minutes) as a condition of hire.


 Firefighter in front of wildfire 



Wenatchee Valley Airbase
3796 Airport Way
East Wenatchee, WA 98802
Phone: 509-884-2492
Fax:   509-884-8799

Email: wenatcheerapps@gmail.com

For more hiring information please call or email the Airbase or one of the employees below.

Thank you for your interest.


Todd Tollefsrud
Rappel Base Manager

Ben Dronen
Helicopter Foreman Rappel

Jesse Machado
Helicopter Foreman Rappel

Mac Bones
Helicopter Foreman Short-haul

Jaime Sarabia
Assistant Helicopter Foreman Rappel

Chandler Melton
Assistant Helicopter Foreman Rappel

Rhys Brownlee
Assistant Helicopter Foreman Rappel

Tyler Davis
Assistant Helicopter Foreman Rappel

David Kessler
Assistant Helicopter Foreman Short-haul