ROSEWOOD HEIGHTS — Local fire departments were reminded on June 19, 1996, that there is no such thing as being too prepared.
A Navy F-18 Hornet fighter jet crashed that Wednesday during a training session, killing the pilot and destroying a home across from the St. Louis Regional Airport in Bethalto.
Rosewood Heights Assistant Fire Chief Corey Williams and Captain/Training Officer Justin Wilkinson know they can’t stop a plane from crashing, but they want to make sure their department is prepared to respond.
“The St. Louis Regional Airport general manager, Dave Miller, informed us about the training in Lexington, Kentucky, and we knew we wanted to go,” Wilkinson said. “Basically if we paid for one firefighter to go down for the training, the airport would cover the cost for a second one to go, too.”
From March 9 through March 13, Williams and Wilkinson attended Aircraft Rescue Fire Fighting training courses at the Blue Grass Airport Regional Training Center. Over five days, both firefighters earned 56 continued education credit hours on how to respond to a plane crash.
“We know that we need to be able to help each other,” St. Louis Regional Airport General Manager Dave Miller said. “We’ve had this feature on the books for six to seven years and the Rosewood Heights Fire Department was the first one to take us up on it. We hope to send two firefighters for training from a different local department once a year.”
Miller said the interested local department must pay the cost for one firefighter and the airport will match and cover the cost of the training for a second to attend, with the exception of salary reimbursement.
“The St. Louis Regional Airport has their own firehouse,” Williams said. “The guys on the fire department also do other jobs on the airport grounds, such as maintenance. The beauty of this course in Kentucky is they get into all the different elements of a plane crash scene that most people might not be aware of. There are so many different hazards and procedures that need to be followed. It’s important to have us all on the same page on a scene.”
Wilkinson and Williams say they hope to share the information they have learned with members of their own department as well as other local fire personnel.
“We would actually like to join with other local departments to perhaps split the cost of having some instructors come to St. Louis Regional Airport to do additional training,” Wilkinson said. “I’ve done some raw figuring and I believe the cost could be around $1,200 to $1,500 to cover the costs. We think it would be a good opportunity for all of us. We work closely together on and off scenes and the more training we have together, the more efficient we will be if or when an emergency occurs.”
One surprising aspect for Wilkinson and Williams is the amount of fuel a plane holds, how it is stored on an aircraft and where the fuel lines run.
“If we have to do extrication on a plane, we can’t approach it in the same way we do a car,” Wilkinson said. “We’d cut fuel lines if we didn’t have this training. Our eyes were opened to so many different situations that we wouldn’t have known to look for. I’m thankful we had this opportunity and we can’t wait to pass it on.”
The Rosewood Heights firefighters have posted photos and video clips of their training on their Facebook page.