Alaska Fire Dept. Also Snags Planes

Alaska Fire Dept. Also Snags Planes

Fire fighters often have dual roles at remote and overseas military air bases. In addition to the usual fire, crash and rescue duties, the Galena Fire Department of the Alaskan Air Command operates an aircraft carrier-type cable landing system.

Even where the temperature ranges from 65 degrees below zero up to the 70s, as around Galena, fighter planes must be able to take off and land in severe weather.

Standby duty for takeoffs is part of the usual airfield operations. The house bells ring once, then the radio:

“Attention in the station. Attention in the station. We need one P-4 to stand by for an actual scramble—one F-4 departing.”

The crew mounts Crash 4, a 1500gallon crash truck, and pulls onto the ramp to the standby position. On the runway, one F-4 combat fighter kicks in its afterburners and heads out into the sky.

Icy landing strip cannot stop the operations of fighter planes in the Alaskan Air Command. Here a landing plane is caught by a cable restrainer operated by the Galena Fire Department.

“Crash control, Crash 4 10-19 returning to quarters.”

Another duty

You might think the job is over but it’s only just begun. Base operations, barrier maintenance and the assistant fire chief all confirm the runway is wet and unsafe for normal landing. The returning fighter will have to engage the west Bak-12 barrier cable to land safely.

The use of fire fighters in the operation of barrier cables in aircraft recovery has long since been a declared duty at bases like ours. If a problem arises, fire fighters are on the scene for immediate assistance.

With the aircraft 40 miles out and inbound, fire equipment heads to the field. Preassigned crews start up the cable’s underground rewind motors. Two crash trucks assume positions as a precautionary measure and personnel adjust bunker gear as the aircraft comes into sight. Coming in low, the aircraft touches down on the runway and lowers its arresting hook. As the hook catches the barrier cable, it pulls out the cable until the aircraft is dragged to a stop.

Once the assistant fire chief clears the aircraft, fire fighters rewind the cable. It is then pretensioned, and the rubber donuts that support the cable 2 inches above the runway are evenly spaced.

“Crash control, Rescue 6, the west Bak-12 is across the runway and ready for engagement.”

Fast rewind

Engagement times start from when the aircraft arresting hook catches the cable and end when the barrier is back in service. Times vary usually between six to eight minutes, although Galena has been known for a 2 1/2 minute rewind time.

The Galena Fire Department is a 35-man department, including six emergency medical technicians and three paramedics. Fire equipment consists of three P-4 crash trucks, a P-10 rescue truck, a 530-B structural pumper, a 1500-gallon water tanker, a P-13 dry chemical/Halon unit and two support vehicles. The fire department supports the aircraft, civilian airport and base area. We also offer fire protection to Campion Air Force Station and Old and New Galena Townships.

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