Photo by Diane Cox
Rosewood Heights Fire Chief Tim Bunt (left) and Bethalto Fire Chief Alex Campbell have organized an aviation course for emergency personnel Saturday, Jan. 23, at Civic Memorial High School and West Star Aviation. The course’s goal is to prepare in the event a plane crash would occur.
ROSEWOOD HEIGHTS — Emergency personnel must be up to date on technology and rescue procedures when it comes to disasters.
Aligning themselves with that mission, local businesses pitched in to cover the cost of an aircraft rescue and firefighting training course for police officers, firefighters and first responders in Madison County. More than 100 professionals were expected to attend the Saturday, Jan. 23, class.
Participants will have four hours of instruction at Civic Memorial High School before moving to West Star Aviation at St. Louis Regional Airport to get a hands-on demonstration on actual aircraft to learn about planes’ structure and functions.
West Star Aviation donated the cost to bring instructors from the Blue Grass Airport Training Center in Kentucky to Bethalto, while Comfort Inn in Alton will provide their lodging. Civic Memorial offered the use of the auditorium for classroom instruction. The Bank of Edwardsville, Shop ’n Save in Wood River, Wood River Bunny Bread and Glazy Squares Donuts will provide food, refreshments and monetary assistance.
“We learned in 1996 when a Navy F-18 Hornet fighter jet went down in our fire district that another plane crash occurring is not an if, but a when,” Rosewood Heights Fire Chief Tim Bunt said. “People don’t realize that we spent two months working the scene of that plane crash in a residential area. Every day we had firefighters on the scene dealing with local, state, federal, EPA and FAA officials. It was quite an experience and this course will help us be more prepared for another situation like that.”
For Bethalto Fire Chief Alex Campbell, the F-18 crash — which killed the pilot — hit particularly close to home.
“My grandfather built the house that was hit in that crash,” Campbell said. “That is the house that my father was raised in, and I lived there until four months prior to the crash. I saw first-hand how it affected the neighborhood and our family.”
Knowing another plane crash can happen at any time with the airport resting on the boundary line between Bethalto and Rosewood Heights, Bunt and Campbell say detailed training is essential for their own departments as well as municipalities called for mutual aid.
“The main purpose is to give everyone an idea of what to expect when it happens again,” Bunt said. “This course will put us all on the same page and allow us to learn the ins and outs of the aircraft so we can feel more confident doing our jobs in mutual aid situations.”
Firefighters from more than a dozen departments committed to attend the course. Bunt said this additional training will open opportunities for more continued education for emergency personnel.
Rosewood Heights Assistant Fire Chief Corey Williams and Training Officer Capt. Justin Wilkerson attended aircraft rescue and firefighting training courses at the Blue Grass Airport Regional Training Center in Kentucky in March 2015. Over five days, both firefighters earned 56 continued education credit hours on how to respond to a plane crash.
“We hope to send two firefighters every year for the weeklong course in Kentucky,” Bunt said. “It would be a great opportunity for other local departments to consider doing the same. In the past, when an interested local department pays the cost for one firefighter to attend, the airport (St. Louis Regional) has matched the cost to cover the training for a second firefighter from that department to attend, too.”
“We are so thankful for the local businesses that have always stepped up when our department has needed something,” Bunt said. “We have many businesses that look out for us because they know we’re here to look out for them when they need us. Training has a cost, but the worth of the training is priceless.”