Women in Command

Women in Command

By Roberto Caiafa/Diálogo
March 27, 2017

One of Daniela Lopes Rocha da Costa’s traits is her pioneering spirit. This Minas Gerais native was in the first female class to serve in the Minas Gerais Military Fire Brigade (CBMMG, per its Portuguese acronym) in 1993 when she enlisted as a private. She was also the first woman in the unit to become a helicopter pilot, as an officer in 2005 when she won first place in the selection of new pilots. In 2011, with her career in full swing and a transfer to CBMMG’s Chief of Staff, Costa stepped away from operational missions and assumed new duties at the seat of state government, known as Administrative City. Twenty-four years later, now as Major Daniela, she achieved a new distinction. At the beginning of 2017, Costa, a mother of two, and married to a military firefighter, was appointed to command the Air Operations Battalion (BOA, per its Portuguese acronym), becoming the first female firefighter in all of Brazil to lead a public safety aviation unit. That milestone was reached just as BOA and its helicopters, known as Archangels, are about to complete 10 years of operation under the slogan “Flying to Save Lives.” On a visit to the unit’s hangar in Belo Horizonte, the capital of the state of Minas Gerais, Maj. Daniela spoke with Diálogo about the challenges her unit faces at this new juncture. “CBMMG’s BOA now has about 50 military service members dedicated to air operations for rescue, prevention, forest fire fighting, and support, as well as the vital task of air medevac, in partnership with the Secretary of Health of Minas Gerais. This is a service in which a twin-turbine helicopter, configured as an aerial Intensive Care Unit, is utilized with a doctor and nurse from the Emergency Mobile Response Service (SAMU, per its Portuguese acronym). That aircraft is one of the Esquilo helicopters in our fleet, which are based in the administrative region of Pampulha, in Belo Horizonte. The other aircraft, also a type B2, is flying out of the new operations base in the Varginha municipality, in the south of the state of Minas Gerais, which was opened in June of 2016.” The company (the first outside of Belo Horizonte) has a team of nine military firefighters – two pilots, two copilots, and five other service members who support the helicopter’s operation. CBMMG’s intent, when it decided to set up this new unit, was to improve the quality of medical services and reduce response times while serving the population in the southern part of the state. But BOA’s expansion efforts don’t stop there, explains Maj. Daniela. “We are in the final process of receiving a couple of Helibras Esquilo helicopters–the B3 types, which are more modern. Military Firefighter Captain Karla Lessa, one of our pilot officers in charge of maintenance, has just returned from the factory where these helicopters are made, in Itajubá, in the state of Minas Gerais, where a conference is being held on all of the specifications that these aircraft need to meet before CBMMG takes receipt of them. More equipment means a demand for more personnel. Therefore, we are going to train 13 helicopter pilots through the end of the year, enabling safety and high availability during operations.” According to statements made by the governor of Minas Gerais, Fernando Pimentel, these helicopters are being procured so that other regions will also have air service from the Fire Brigade and from SAMU. “We have four aircraft on the way, with two of them in the process of having their purchase formalized, and the other two still in the bidding process. Our objective is to place one multi-mission firefighting helicopter in each of the regions of Minas Gerais, which is a vast territory with 853 municipalities. Many of those municipalities have less than 5,000 inhabitants and they present huge challenges for maintaining a permanent health care infrastructure,” he said. “One of BOA’s longstanding desires is due to become reality by the end of 2017 - our new change of address. Our current hangar has barely been able to accommodate three helicopters and one small, lightweight airplane. Even with the creation of the new company in Varginha and the transfer of an Esquilo helicopter there, the space available here is not exactly ideal. Through an agreement between the state government and an aviation company, we are moving to a larger and more functional hangar that is capable of absorbing the increased number of personnel, which will more easily house all of our aircraft, without depriving us of the airport at Pampulha, an airfield that has served us well due to its centrality.” International Women’s Day Diálogo visited CBMMG’s BOA hangar on International Women’s Day to introduce the first military firefighter/helicopter pilot to command an air unit of this type in Brazil, and also to highlight the presence of an all-female team of professionals who were fit to be integrated into real-world missions. CBMMG’s BOA has a long tradition of having women in its force, and some of them — such as Capt. Karla Lessa, the first firefighter pilot to command an air medevac helicopter — stand out for their pioneering spirit. Among the crew, Military Firefighter Lieutenant Sílvia Amélia de Souza Paula is considered a “legend” by her peers and subordinates. In the history of the battalion, she has been there practically from the start, performing the daily mission of flying to save lives, both safely and efficiently. On the medical team were Nurse Minela Miranda and Dr. Maria Olímpia dos Reis, both from SAMU. These professionalswere qualified as crew members and assigned by the Secretary of Health of Minas Gerais to serve in Air Medevac, in partnership with the CBMMG’s BOA. “With this team, we can take off and respond as usual to any situation because everyone aboard is capable of carrying out the mission. It’s always important to highlight that there is no distinction between men and women when it comes to carrying out the duties of military life. You have to be qualified for that. And getting there is something that happens only after a lot of studies, physical training, and a whole lot of dedication,” Maj. Daniela concluded.
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