What if a forest fire broke out in a nearby rural area?
Firefighters from nearly a dozen fire departments got some hands-on training on how to assist airborne firefighters to fight such fires at the Paragould Municipal Airport on Tuesday.
Trainers from the Arkansas Department of Agriculture’s Division of Forestry provided training to 50 firefighters to upload up to 700 gallons of water into each of two Single-Engine Aircraft Tankers (SEATs) on the airport ramp. Upon completion of each of the two water uploads, the two Air Tractor aircraft took off, and made practice water drops on the airport between the runway and the taxiway.
“We work with volunteer fire departments and paid fire departments to do this periodically,” said Chris Pfeifer of the division. Pilots of the SEATs, operating under contract through Arkansas-based Henry’s Aerial Service, were Johnny Broome and Joe Jett.
Jett, also state representative for District 56 (including most of Greene County) has been flying for years. “I just took a couple of days off from the Legislature to do this,” he said.
Jett explained the SEAT can carry up to 800 gallons of water, plus 15 gallons of fire-suppressing surfactant. “But we do water mainly,” he said, “And if we have more than 700 gallons we have to take off with less fuel.”
The two aircraft received one water load with the engine off and one with the engine running, to simulate actual firefighting conditions when time is critical.
Members of the fire departments of Paragould, Marmaduke, Oak Grove Heights, Western Greene County, Peach Orchard, Sedgwick, Hoxie, Walnut Ridge, Brookland, Philadelphia, Lake City and Higginson, as well as the Greene County Rescue Squad, were on hand for the training.