January 9, 2015 --
The Air National Guard is always on mission, which is represented by the Air Guard's ability to respond to homeland operations, security cooperation through partnerships nationwide with other countries, and their warfighting capability. On Jan. 9, 2015, the homeland operations piece was tested when "whiteout" weather conditions caused a 193-vehicle pile-up and explosion on I-94 near Battle Creek, Michigan. Firefighters assigned to Michigan's 110th Attack Wing, based at the Battle Creek Air National Guard Base were quick to respond.
Lt. Adam Magers, a 12-year veteran with the Battle Creek Fire Department was on duty at W.K. Kellogg Airport's fire station, which is collocated with the Air National Guard Base. Magers is also an Air Force technical sergeant and trains one weekend a month with the wing's 217th Air Operations Group as a fire protection subject matter expert.
"I've always been proud of the 110th and its members' willingness to serve this community," said Magers. "The Battle Creek Fire Department and the 110th work very well together."
Senior Master Sgt. Rolando Garza and Airman 1st Class Bush McCarthy, both firefighters assigned to the 110th Civil Engineer Squadron, were at the airport Friday to support an Air Force KC-135 aircraft scheduled to land there. When the call came for help to support the multi-vehicle crash, one fire engine was staged and ready on the flight line and Garza, McCarthy and Magers were dispatched to the crash site.
Upon arrival, in addition to the multiple collisions, Garza, Magers, and McCarthy encountered a semi-truck that was hauling 40,000 pounds of fireworks, exploding like an Independence Day display. The men returned to the base to get three Battle Creek ANG special-purpose crash and rescue fire trucks, including the "crash-rig" that has a turret with a 175-foot-reach and can spray fire-retardant foam.
"It wasn't initially known if we were encountering hazardous material because of the fireworks," said Garza. "With the crash rig, we were able to provide a good initial attack to make way for the local community firefighters to get in with their hand lines."
According to 110th Attack Wing Executive Officer Maj. Kelly Black, the base has decades of experience training and preparing for this type of scenario.
"For more than 20 years, we've had fulltime firefighters at the base preparing to respond to a major aircraft accident," said Black. "As a result, there was a very compatible crossover to support the massive vehicle incident."
Garza has been a firefighter at the base for 24 years; Magers, for 10; and McCarthy, though relatively new to the Guard, has seven years of experience as a firefighter. McCarthy had just completed a required Air National Guard school and was on a 180-day military order for on-the-job "seasoning training" to learn the additional requirements for an Air Force firefighter. The real-life scenario was not expected, but he was prepared.
"The always on mission motto requires us to maintain our training to respond to military requirements and be prepared to support any civilian requirements to protect life or property damage," said Black. "This was a great opportunity to utilize our Airmen and equipment to support our community in a very important role."