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Air Force Firefighters Stand Ready to Respond to Emergencies

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England --

Sometimes things go wrong. Even with routine maintenance, an aircraft can lose cabin pressure or hydraulics can fail.

Pilots encountering these emergencies have the peace of mind that highly trained individuals are waiting for them when they land. Air Force firefighters are always ready to respond not only to typical fire emergencies, but to aircraft related ones as well.

“We are always prepared for anything that can go wrong,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Alexander McCaul, 48th Civil Engineer Squadron station chief here. “We train to be familiar with all aspects of every aircraft in the Air Force and how to tailor our skill set during times of emergency.”

Firefighters work hand in hand with power production airmen to train and certify them on the use of their barrier arresting kits, which act as an external emergency brake for the aircraft. The firefighters can then assist in resetting them.

“The fire department takes the lead on the whole emergency, making sure the personnel are OK,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Spencer Thresh, 48th CES barrier maintenance noncommissioned officer in charge. “They disconnect the cable from the tailhook, and we do the maintenance to ensure the system will be ready for another use.”

This close partnership between the two different organizations allowed two 48th Fighter Wing aircraft to perform safe emergency landings within an hour Dec. 11.

“We had about seven minutes to get the barrier recertified, move the jet off the runway and open it back up,” McCaul said. “It was almost immediately after we cleared the first aircraft that another jet needed to catch a barrier, too. Since we consistently work with the power production team, we were prepared for the situation. The aircraft was able to land immediately, and the mission kept going.”

Constant Readiness

The attention to detail and constant readiness of the 48th CES airmen provides a sense of security to the pilots of the “Liberty Wing.” In these instances, the pilots and weapon system officers walked away and the two $54 million F-15E Strike Eagles were quickly returned to flying status.

“Knowing that if the worst was to happen, that help would only be seconds away really reduces the stress we feel, so we can focus on getting the jet on the ground safely rather than wondering what might happen,” said a pilot from the 492nd Fighter Squadron.

The hard work of the firefighters keeps the wing’s mission moving, one saved Eagle at a time.

“It’s a great service to be in,” McCaul said. “We are a service that provides for the people, and that’s what we are here for. It’s really cool to be a part of something that has a footprint everywhere. I definitely love what I do.”