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Connecticut ANG firefighters aided in B-17 crash response

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Robert Cross, Tech. Sgt. Craig Bein, Senior Airman Jason Conway, Firefighter Howard Corp, Firefighter Lisa Deakins, Tech. Sgt Ronald Avery, and Senior Airman Gabriel Pagan pose in front of the Bradley Air National Guard Base Fire Station Nov. 3, 2019 East Granby, Conn. These firefighters all responded to the B-17 Flying Fortress crash at Bradley International Airport Oct. 2, 2019. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Chanhda Ly)

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Robert Cross, Tech. Sgt. Craig Bein, Senior Airman Jason Conway, Firefighter Howard Corp, Firefighter Lisa Deakins, Tech. Sgt Ronald Avery, and Senior Airman Gabriel Pagan pose in front of the Connecticut Air National Guard's 103rd Airlift Wing Fire Station Nov. 3, 2019 in East Granby, Conn. These firefighters all responded to the B-17 Flying Fortress crash at Bradley International Airport Oct. 2, 2019. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Chanhda Ly)

EAST GRANBY, Conn. -- At approximately 9:56 a.m. on Oct. 2, 2019, a B-17 Flying Fortress participating in the “Wings of Freedom Tour” crashed into a de-icing facility at Bradley International Airport. It was then that firefighters from the Connecticut Air National Guard's 103rd Airlift Wing, working as mutual aid responders for Bradley International Airport’s Fire Department, answered the call.

“I was on duty when a radio call came in from airfield ops telling us to standby for a box,” said Louis Manfredi, a firefighter assigned to the 103rd AW.

He thought this was unusual because tones typically sound off first for a box alarm, indicating an aircraft emergency. However, airfield operations had been watching the B-17 as it took off and observed the plane flying too low as it began returning to the airport for landing.

“We started walking to get ready, then we hear ‘pull the box, pull the box’ on the radio and then the tones go off,” said Manfredi. “We get out to the bay and the doors are up, and all you see is the cloud of smoke from the fire. At that point we are all in the bay getting into our gear, and that was one of those moments where we are all just looking around at each other thinking this is the real one, this is the big one. We are all telling each other to calm down, let’s do this right, then we took off.”

By the time the firefighters left the bay in Engine 54, the airport had been shut down to air traffic; commercial flights were delayed and cancelled over the next several hours. Being proximally located to the flight line at Bradley International Airport, the ANG firefighters were first to arrive on scene. Immediately, the four-man team went to work with Captain Anthony Authier, officer in charge on Engine 54, calling in a scene size-up via radio.

“The scene size-up paints the initial picture for the incoming units,” said Authier. “On our arrival, I was confirming that it was an aircraft into a building with heavy fire. This let the incoming chief from Bradley International know that it’s not an assumption, it’s emergency personnel saying, ‘yes, this is an aircraft into a building.’”

Providing this vital information allowed time-critical processes to begin taking place.

“[Chief John Duffy, Bradley International Airport’s Fire Chief] started the second alarm assignments to get the additional resources started that much sooner, as opposed to waiting the extra minute or two for everyone else to get there,” said Authier.

While Authier was providing the size-up, the rest of the Engine 54 crew were already in action. The driver of the engine was getting the pump in gear so the water could start. The other two firefighters on the engine began pulling hand lines off the crash trucks that had arrived.

During this process, Authier had noticed people walking around the crash site that appeared wounded. He told the Engine 54 crew to drop the hand lines and follow him. The three of them were able to guide three of the walking wounded away from the crash site, then grab a fourth person lying on the ground and physically drag them to the casualty collection point Authier had established.

“After we dragged [the victim] out, we went back a second time to look for other survivors,” said Manfredi. “After we determined there were no other victims in our sector, we transitioned from rescue to fighting the fire. We went back to get the hand lines stretched and were fighting the fire.”

Victims of the crash were transported to area hospitals as firefighters continued to put out the blaze. Several 103rd AW firefighters who were off duty during the incident also began responding to the scene.

It was really a joint effort, said Manfredi. There were several different pieces to consider, putting the fire out on the aircraft, rescuing the survivors and getting them medical aid, and then searching the de-icing facility for victims.

The ANG firefighters worked hand-in-hand with Bradley International Airport firefighters during this incident.

“The main body of fire was knocked down by the crash trucks from Bradley [International Airport Fire Department] putting foam down from their roof turrets putting the main body of the fire out,” said Manfredi.

Chief Master Sgt. Robert Cross, the 103rd AW fire chief that also responded to the crash site, attributes ANG firefighters’ and Bradley International Airport firefighters’ quick response to their training.

“We train with CAA on a regular basis,” said Cross, who acted as the Connecticut Air National Guard’s liaison officer during the incident. “We interface with them four to five times a week.”

CAA is the Connecticut Airport Authority under which the Bradley International Airport firefighters fall.

“Over the years of working together we’ve discussed after training and after action reports, to not only identify issues, but we fix them,” said Cross.

Sharing common radio frequencies, compatibility of equipment and trust are some of the things the two fire departments have built over the years.

“It was comforting knowing we were all together,” said Cross. “Working and training with these guys, it was easy. How well we worked together made a difference on how we stabilized the incident. This event was a really a validation of training up to this point.”

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont thanked the ANG firefighters for their efforts when visiting the fire department Oct. 30, 2019.

“We owe you folks a debt of gratitude,” Lamont said to the 103rd AW firefighters. “These are folks who saved lives that day…thank you for all you did.

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