The 129th Rescue Wing's fleet of six rescue helicopters is down to four because the DOD has ordered work furloughs and cuts that prevent repairs to one and the replacement of another that was shot down during a rescue mission in Afghanistan, according to Rescue Wing officials.
The Department of Defense ordered $1.8 billion in across the board spending cuts on July 8, triggered in March by sequestration.
"These aircraft are normally the first to respond to large-scale emergencies, and are used to perform complex lifesaving rescues and firefighting operations that are beyond the ability of others to perform," said Col. Steven J. Butow, the Rescue Wing's commander. "Keeping these aircraft operational is critical to our ability to respond to life-threatening disasters in the Bay Area and across the state and nation."
The 129th Rescue Wing — which has rescued 600 people around the United States since 1977 and responded to Hurricane Katrina within 24 hours — is missing one of the helicopters because recently ordered work furloughs have kept it from being repaired for 60 days, just as the Rescue Wing's busy wildfire season begins.
Meanwhile, ongoing budget issues have kept another rescue helicopter from being replaced after it was shot down in Afghanistan in 2009, despite replacement funding approval from Congress.
"Congress funded operational loss replacement aircraft and the 129th (Rescue Wing) is due to receive one but the combination of sequestration and other program cuts may delay this action indefinitely," said spokesperson Roderick Bersimina in a press release.
"The effects of the $85 billion in cuts to federal agencies due to sequestration are clearly hitting home," said Congresswoman Anna Eshoo. "First responders and public safety are being compromised when 100 technicians are furloughed at the 129th Rescue Wing."
"Congress should produce a budget that solves problems and reduces the deficit. Putting safety at risk is bad policy, which is why I've repeatedly called for Republicans to meet with Democrats to negotiate a budget for our nation," Eshoo said.
The Rescue Wing notes that the work furloughs could extend into next year, possibly causing delays if another helicopter needs repairs during hurricane season.