Firefighters’ helperWilliam Mensing

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After his discharge from the Navy after World War II, Mensing opened a sheet-metal business in southern California called Sheetcraft. His specialty: fixing damaged aircraft, even if it meant fabricating a new part for it. In 1970, the Los Angeles County Fire Department had a special request. They were one of the first agencies (starting in 1957) to put water tanks on helicopters to fight fires, and the company that made the tanks went out of business. Could he help? He could. Working with the department’s chief of helicopter maintenance, Doug Mathews, Mensing not only fixed the tanks and made new ones, but “When Mensing got it, we kept improving it,” Mathews, now retired, says. Mensing made the tanks lighter, he made it possible to not dump the entire tank all at once, and more. Air support makes fighting wildfires — a growing problem across the U.S. and the world — more efficient, and much safer for handcrews on the ground. The improved tanks are so popular, they eventually became Sheetcraft’s main business. “It’s commonly known as the Sheetcraft tank or the L.A. tank,” Mathews said, and it’s not only used by southern California fire departments, but also the U.S. Forest Service, and well as Italy and China. Mensing died July 26 at his southern California home. He was 88.

From This is True for 5 August 2012