The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

July 29, 2013
Unusual California state government job: Helicopter fire pilot

Humann_cockpit.JPGWhat do a gunsmith, a seed botanist, and a fire helicopter pilot all have in common? Each one is someone who may hold a California state government job.

We interviewed state workers holding down those jobs to find out what they do, how they got there and what they think you should know about their work.

Here's the first installment in our series on unusual state employee jobs:

Name: Thomas Humann

Job title: Fire pilot, Department of Forestry and Fire Protection

Number of years with the state: eight

How did you come to be a fire pilot?
"I did have a fairly decent foundation of helicopter flying. I flew attack helicopters in the Marine Corps and then I was flying Marine One for President George W. Bush. ... In 2003 during the fire siege that occurred in Southern California I had a chance to meet with a bunch of guys from (Cal Fire). ... Then when I got out in 2005 I had the opportunity to move to Sacramento, worked as a department aviation safety officer for four years and then moved out to my current location as a field fire pilot."

What does a typical week in the life of a fire pilot look like?
"It is fairly diverse. We don't know what any given day is going to bring. It is mostly going to be fire response, but we could also get any number of types of rescue calls. Most of what we do is fire firefighting itself. ... We try to capture and contain the fire before it becomes something significant. ... For me, that was a real natural transition (from the Marine Corps)...there was the same type of unit cohesion and camaraderie...they want to save homes and help people."

What is the most extraordinary or interesting thing that has happened while you were on the job?
"I'll mention two things. One was the eye opening experience in 2007 of getting dispatched to the fires in Southern California, where frankly it looked like Armageddon down there. ... We do rescues as well. We went out and got a call fairly late in the day for two little lost girls. Just as it was getting too dark to see, we were able to locate the girls, a couple of guys were able to jump out of the helicopter ... and I was able to pick them up."

Is there anything you want people to know about your job?
"The best thing for people to know is that we are able to contain 90 percent of fires that are 10 acres or less. On a day to day basis, most of time in California, most of these fires amount to basically nothing because of the quick response we are able to provide."

Do you have an interesting state government job or know someone who does? Think people would like to read about it? Send a note to

PHOTO: Courtesy of Thomas Humann/Victor Acosta.

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About The State Worker

Jon Ortiz The Author

Jon Ortiz launched The State Worker blog and a companion column in 2008 to cover state government from the perspective of California government employees. Every day he filters the news through a single question: "What does this mean for state workers?" Join Ortiz for updates and debate on state pay, benefits, pensions, contracts and jobs. Contact him at (916) 321-1043 and at


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