Back when I did the Fire Rescue book, I nearly missed my first fire because I was home letting my cat out. "Once you come on duty, you CANNOT LEAVE," Toby Turner would say to me. So when I came back from my quick trip home and all the fire trucks were gone, I knew I had blown my chance. Until, that is, Ed Kuvlesky showed up and brought me to the fire just in the nick of time. Forever he will be my HERO for doing that. And just like then, I can still count on him now to point me in the right direction of a fire! He let me know IRC Fire Rescue was having Airport Disaster Training at the Vero Beach Airport, and so I showed up with my cameras.
I had the honor and pleasure of meeting and speaking with Mark Lee, the Aircraft Rescue Firefighting Specialist from the University of Missouri Extension Fire and Rescue Training Institute who was there in charge of the training. He explained the equipment they brought in all the way from Missouri to train our local firefighters.
"The University of Missouri Extension Fire and Rescue Training Institute operates the unit, which consists of a large 'airplane' with 400 gallons of propane on it that is pulled by a tractor, and a pickup truck which pulls a trailer for the spill pans for the fire on the ground. It's one big barbeque," he says with a laugh. "In fact, one time I wanted to set it up so we could grill burgers on it for the University of Missouri's Homecoming, but the Dean didn’t like that idea." He laughs again. I am always gullible when it comes to jokes and he is very convincing, so I don't know if he is kidding or not, but I appreciate his sense of humor and for indulging me with the interview!
"Missouri Department of Transportation owns it and the FAA helped pay for it with grant money," he adds.
He explains how they travel all over the country with the unit to train various fire departments. "We travel out of the FAA central region so we can make money to keep the unit operational since the whole unit is 1.6 million dollars."
"So we go out with three people and we all have commercial driver licenses for it with hazmat status. We came into Vero Beach yesterday, set up, now we are training today, and tomorrow we head back to Missouri and then on to Watertown, South Dakota."
The traveling is extensive. He tells me they just spent 9 days training in Kansas City and then lists cities in Kansas, Arkansas, Iowa, and Nebraska on their upcoming agenda.
So naturally I want to know more about him and his team.
"I am from Philipsburg, Montana," he says. "My uncle was in the Air Force and always was working with fire, and so right out of high school in 1975 I joined the Air Force and did 21 years in firefighting." He emphasizes '1975' like he is really old or something. I think, well I am not that far behind you!
"Then I wound up at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. I decided to look for a job and got an interview with University of Missouri and have been with them since 1996 doing this work. I like it. There are some places that are tougher than others. Indian River County is great. This group is good! Some places they don’t pay enough attention to safety but this group does."
He brings me over to meet team member Mark Briskow, who is directing the firetrucks to the burning aircraft. When we have a break, I ask him about his background.
"I retired from Central Jackson County Fire Department in Kansas City and so I have experience with aircraft and propane, and now that I am retired I have the flexibility and availability to go out with this unit."
As I watch the drills, Mark is right there in the middle of it, directing teams of firefighters to the correct spots, and making sure the training is done safely. Later on he gets into a all-silver suit which looks alot like a spacesuit.
Below is a slideshow of 22 photos of this part of the training:
Mark then takes me over to the 'cab' where Rick (drat I did not get his last name - I hope Mark will read this and tell me). Rick is busy running the equipment as the drills go on around us and it is loud in there, so Mark does the talking for him.
"Rick retired from the Springfield Missouri Fire Department where he was a Battalion Chief," says Mark. "His experience and the fact he is retired makes it possible for him to do this type of work and all the traveling. Also it's good we can get these retirees because they work cheap."
A pause, then a big laugh from both men.
"But seriously, we are gone for long stretches of time so this is the only way to have guys with this level of experience who are available to get up and go," says Mark.
It's time for them to suit up and get serious and for me to hang back and take photos of our IRC Fire Rescue guys (no gals there at that particular stretch of time I am there).
Below is a slideshow of 35 photos of the drill and of people watching:
From November 2013 to January 2014, I had the rare chance to become 'part of the crew' as a photographer and journalist with IRC Fire Rescue over the course of four months, and I put a book together about it called MY ADVENTURE WITH INDIAN RIVER FIRE RESCUE.