On the night of October 8, Sonoma County Sheriff Department’s Henry 1 helicopter pilot Paul Bradley and his team provided aerial observation of the fires. “We saw a wall of flames surrounding Santa Rosa so bright we couldn’t use our night goggles. Coffey Park was burning and at a fast pace; winds at the time were close to 50 mph. Homes were burning house to house and at a fast walking pace,” he says. “It was difficult to comprehend. All my years of fighting fires from the air and understanding fire behavior, this was one I’ve never seen before. The only word to explain it was: disaster.”
Since 2002, Bradley has been the sheriff pilot, which responds to more than 900 local missions annually and is responsible for more rescues than any other single helicopter in the U.S. Bradley lives in Windsor with his wife, Marisa, and their 13-month-old daughter, Bell.
What are you most proud of?
I’d like to think I’ve mastered my career, I have a successful 20-year-old-son, and a beautiful baby girl. I consider myself lucky to wake up every morning.
To feel rested, how many hours of sleep do you need each night?
I’m usually good with six to seven hours, which can be difficult while working the shifts that we do. With a late call-out I might end up with a split-sleep situation, which is not ideal but doable if managed properly. If my body is rested, but had a night of split-sleep, I usually feel rested. Our policy, to include FAA standards, indicate that if I’m too tired I must say “I can’t fly.” This has only happened on a few occasions.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I’d tell my younger self when I wake up the next day and start over, not to stress over small stuff from the day before and learn from the mistakes, correct them and move forward. Easier said than done, but having this mindset each morning helps.
To what degree are you patriotic? How do you express your patriotism?
I’d like to think I’m patriotic, but the word “patriotic” is up for scrutiny in today’s society. Being a good neighbor, helping people in need, protecting those that need protecting or saving, following the written laws, paying taxes even though I pay way too much, and fly the American flag on my shoulder—that’s how I express my patriotism.
What was your first car?
A 1979 Chrysler Cordoba with T-Tops.
How do you typically react in sudden, extreme, pressure-filled crisis?
Considering our mission at Henry 1, I believe we do a pretty good job. We sometimes end up at places we never expected just moments before. For example, a night rescue on the cliffs north of Jenner on the Sonoma Coast. We received a call for a fisherman missing for more than five hours. We arrived in the area locating a subject at the bottom of a cliff and holding a small dog. We landed on the cliffs above him because the water prevented us landing next to him on the beach. The crew was able to hike down, using ropes as a safety guide. Moments later, one of the crewmembers called via radio saying the subject was having heart issues and needed to get to the hospital immediately. No way were they going to hike him up, so we determined a nightlong line rescue was our only option. Within minutes we had the gentleman and his dog to the top of the cliff. We loaded him into the helicopter and transported him to the local trauma hospital.
When do you feel your best?
I feel my best after the gym. It’s a great place to forget everything and focus on myself. It’s my relax time, and a great place to start off the new day.
What’s your favorite candy?
Peanut M&M’s. I love them.
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