By Michael Buhler
The emergency landing of an airplane near Cheney Lake 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 any time.
“You have to be ready for almost anything,” Clearwater fire chief Marvin Schauf said. “You never know what the call is going to be. We’re trained in most everything and we meet twice a month for training. Next week, we’re going to Lake Afton and train there for water rescue.”
Schauf said that his crew has had to deal with water rescue in the past, as he told the story of a lady who drove off in four feet of floodwater southeast of Clearwater a few years ago and had to be rescued.
Craig Leu, the deputy chief of Fire District No. 1 in Sedgwick County, says that fire and rescue basically is the backup for other services like police and EMS.
“I think the deal with any fire department is that you’re the fallback response to any unusual situation,” Leu said. “Anytime a dispatcher is not sure who to send, the fire department is called out. You run into a lot of things that the normal citizen would not think the fire department is ready for. The good thing about fire service is that we’re a open book – there are no trade secrets. Through the years, we’ve done a lot of stuff.”
Cheney Fire Department personnel respond to a recent house fire in Cheney. The department was involved in last week’s search for a downed airplane and often helps with rescues and recoveries at Cheney Reservoir. Local fire departments have to be prepared for a wide variety of emergency situations.
Leu has seen fire and rescue take on a lot of things in the past, from aiding with incidents at Wichita’s Mid-Continent Airport to rescuing a horse from a cistern.
“We’ve had a lot of emergencies through the years,” Leu said. “We assist Wichita Fire and Mid-Continent on any emergency they have. Smaller planes and spray planes can be interesting too. We deal with such incidents as water rescue calls and agricultural accidents, such as grain bin issues – like having to pull someone out of a grain bin. We recently had to use the Jaws of Life to get cows out of an overturned truck.”
Brad Ewy, the fire chief in Cheney, echoes Schauf’s sentiments.
“We’ve got to be ready for anything,” Ewy said. “If there had been a plane crash near the lake last week, we carried foam for it. We have to be ready for anything and everything. We train for everything from train wrecks to well, anything.”
Ewy said that his department has had to handle several extraordinary incidents just this year.
“We dealt with a 600-acre fire, then we also had a house fire where a guy inside had a samurai sword trying to get us. Anything that you can think of – we deal with them all.”