For the first time, Ontario Provincial Police in the Thunder Bay area have obtained access to a dedicated helicopter for use in search-and-rescue missions and other work.
OPP are leasing a helicopter from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry under a six-month contract that took effect in November.
Sergeant Peter Leon, provincial media relations coordinator for the OPP, told tbnewswatch.com the arrangement ensures the OPP can get a machine in the air as soon as it's needed.
OPP have used MNRF aircraft in the past when they have been available, and Leon said the two have an excellent working relationship. A lease, however, ensures the aircraft is always on-call specifically for the police.
"This gives us an exclusive opportunity for this period of time to have direct access to that helicopter when it's necessary," he said.
Leon said that previously, "We had an understanding in place, if MNR was utilizing it for MNR-related purposes, obviously we would have to look elsewhere."
OPP also have two helicopters in their own fleet, but both are based in Orillia where the OPP are headquartered.
Leon said the new arrangement, although temporary, provides an opportunity to evaluate leasing as an option. He pointed out that the MNRF's own need for the aircraft will increase during the firefighting season, but the OPP "will make an evaluation upon the completion of this (lease) period."
He noted that OPP also have other resources they can use for search and rescue operations, including the emergency response unit, canine teams, and unmanned aerial vehicles that are equipped with cameras and infrared capability.
The OPP aviation section includes two fixed-wing aircraft as well, one of which is primarily based in Thunder Bay.