Kearney Rural Fire Dept. Uses Unique Training After Opening Airport Station

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KEARNEY, Neb.-- Car fires, smoking cockpits, and failed runway gears. Those are just a few of the things the Kearney Rural Fire Department can deal with at their local airport.

Saturday they gave the public a unique opportunity to see how they handle these dangerous scenarios.

After a year of work and $1.6 million (90% paid for by Federal Aviation Administration, 10% by the city), Kearney's new Airport Rescue Fire Fighting station is ready.

"We was operating out of just an office and a garage so for better service for the city of Kearney we wanted to give them better fire protection so we'd be out here, we're going to have somebody out here 24 hours a day," said Jason Whalen, the Fire Administrator for the City of Kearney.

But that number could continue to grow as needed.

Whalen said, "As the city grows and the airport gets busier, you know, we'll expand with what we need."

And while the public was at the station, fire fighters worked with the Mobile Aircraft Fire Trainer from the University of Missouri, which cost $1.6 million (95% paid for by the FAA and 5% by the Missouri Department of Transportation). The equipment granted an opportunity for the Kearney Rural Crew to practice at their home station.

"We're able to work with Kearney firefighters and use their equipment, their people, and the new recruits to all come together to learn how to take care of an incident on an aircraft, to talk about the safety, how are we going to get those victims to a medical unit so we don't have other concerns," said Mark Lee, the Program Manager of the Aircraft Rescue Firefighting Program with the University of Missouri extension Fire & Rescue Training Institute.

And the entire crew gained a lot from this experience.

"You learn you have to keep your nozzle up high and not blow down into the fuel, if there would be fuel on the tarmac, so you don't blow it around," said Terry Eirich, the Fire Chief of the Kearney Volunteer Fire Department. "Usually if it was an actual scene we'd be putting foam on it and you don't want to break your foam blanket."

In fact, Chief Eirich said this training along with the new station are vital to their work.

He said, "I think it's invaluable to the city of Kearney. As our airport grows, we're going to see probably bigger planes coming in and maybe more commuter planes and we're going to have a lot more call for aircraft rescue and fire fighting. So I think we need to be prepared and I think we're on the right track."

And the crew treated it as invaluable, as they even impressed the trainers who work around the country.

Lee said, "This crew did really well. We complimented them on that because there's some things on this one that they did better than a lot of other places that we go."

Crews said this station is also unique because it's one of few in the state that uses trained fire fighters at their airport station instead of maintenance workers.


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