By Michael Buhler
The emergency landing of an airplane near Cheney Lake – a plane that originally was thought to have landed northeast of Conway Springs – has brought renewed attention to the many roles that local fire and rescue departments have to play in their communities.
Fire and rescue departments in south central Kansas almost literally have to be the jacks-of-all-trades, ready to respond to anything at anytime.
“I always make a joke that if somebody calls 911 and they can’t direct it toward police or EMS, it goes to fire,” Conway Springs fire chief Mike Erker said. “But that’s the way it is. I think it’s because we’re maybe a little more diverse than police or EMS, and that we have more equipment. In our fire training we have more diverse training. If a plane goes down it’s on fire, and if there are people injured or trapped, they need rescue.”
Jim Patterson of the Viola Fire Department echoed Erker’s sentiments.
“There are so many things you have to watch for,” Patterson said. “You can’t always be prepared or you’d not be able to afford the equipment. We try to do a lot of training. For example, the technique of simple extrication out of a car wreck can be used on a lot of other things.”
Patterson said that the Viola Fire Department has not seen an exceptional number of extraordinary incidents, saying that “we’ve been lucky.”
“The only thing that we’ve had lately was a truck rollover on K-42,” Patterson said. “It took a lot more resource than one department had. We had to get help and do a lot of thinking outside the box. There also was a plane crash out by Suppesville about 25 years ago, but that was over and done with the moment it hit the ground.”
Erker said that the Conway Springs Fire Department has had a few incidents outside of “traditional” firefighting, including some things in the agricultural realm.
“We had a plane incident one time which was similar to the one up by the lake last week,” Erker said. “We’ve had quite a range of problems, including a grain elevator fire and tornadoes. The grain elevator fire stands out. It was as bad or as devastating as a tornado, and it was above what we were trained for at the time.”
Scott Spinks, the chief of the Argonia Fire Department, also says that fire and rescue departments have to be prepared for things across the board.
“We have to be ready for typically pretty much anything, from a crop duster crash to rescue and vehicle extrication,” Spinks said. “Sometimes we have to be ready for search and rescue, such as when people get lost in the woods near the Chikaskia River. Sometimes people wander away from accidents and we have to find them. Tornadoes are a big thing, especially with storm season coming up again. It can be pretty interesting.”
Two of the more recent storms to hit Argonia also have stood out to Spinks.
“We had power lines down and had extensive damage through out the town,” Spinks said. “We had gas leaks during the storm. We have quite a variety here in Argonia. One of the big things that also stood out was the night of the April 14 tornado in 2012. One of the unusual things we came across were tree limbs drove into the side of propane tanks.”