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NEWS | May 15, 2023

Firefighters respond to unique call

By Sgt. 1st. Class Benjamin Crane, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs Office

Tucked back in a building that if you blinked, you’d miss it, is the firehouse of Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center.

The small crew of 11 firefighters who work there are responsible for responding to calls within the training center as well as responding to calls from the surrounding community.

“We help respond with Graham Fire Department, Greenville Fire Dept., Central City and Bremen Fire, which are our bordering departments,” said Rondal Hambrick, the fire chief for the station. “We typically run out on big vehicle accidents, structure fires and wildland/brush fires.”

According to the fire chief, they’re not usually the first ones dispatched to the surrounding communities, due to the new equipment and vehicles they have, they are needed for the larger emergencies that the volunteer fire departments can’t handle on their own.

After the work day had ended for the fire chief, on May 15, 2023, he heard the tone calling for his station just as he was getting comfortable at home. But what he was called to respond to was something out of the usual for him.

“I had just sat down ready to relax when I heard our tone go off and they said it was for a downed aircraft,” said Hambrick. “I was kind of puzzled at first, because you don’t get something like that every day.”

The downed aircraft was a replica model of a 1918 JN4 Jenny that was flying back from an airshow at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois with pilot Dorian Walker behind the sticks. He and his copilot had just refueled for their last leg of the trip back to Bowling Green when they lost power at about 1,200 feet in the air.

“I had tried to restart the engine but it only came back on for about ten seconds before it went dead again,” re-counted Walker. “I immediately had to start looking for places with enough space to safely put the aircraft down and saw an open field and decided that was my best option.”

That field was actually part of an old coal mine reclamation project going on at WHFRTC.

Upon hitting the ground, the landing gear snagged something in the tall grass and was ripped off forcing the nose of the plane into the ground and the middle section to twist and break in half. Despite the damage to the plane, Walker and copilot were okay; only sustaining minor injuries.

Without knowing where they were, the two men scoured the area looking for the owner of the land they were on while contacting 911.

Hambrick and crew chief, Kyle Wade, arrived at the scene shortly after they got the call to assist the pilots.

“I was worried about the fuel catching the field on fire,” said Wade. “But when we pulled up and saw there wasn’t any fire, I sent the Striker back to the station and we had our ambulance take one of the pilots to the hospital for evaluation.”

Thankfully the pilots walked away safely and there wasn’t any fire to put out. But the fire station was prepared if the situation had turned out differently.

The station has one vehicle designed for the exact type of situation they faced that night. The 2021 Oshkosh Striker has a 1500-gallon water tank, 400-gallon foam tank, that pumps water at a rate of 2000-gallons-per-minute-pump and carries 500 pounds of Ansel Purple K Dry chemical agent (one of the most effective of the dry chemicals against Class B fires) and has a powerful 800-horse-power Scania diesel engine.

“It's main purpose is aircraft fire fighting and rescue response. It its four-wheel drive and is engineered to be able to traverse steep grades to allow it to be able to get places most vehicles can’t,” said Wade.

The station also has two fire engines, one water tanker, one heavy rescue vehicle, a command truck, a brush truck, two firefighting utility vehicles, and a rescue boat.

The crashed Jenny was one of only six such planes remaining in the world and the only one that is certified for coast-to-coast flights.

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