148th Fighter Wing Fire Department provides emergency response to Duluth Air Show

  • Published
  • By Audra Flanagan
  • 148th Fighter Wing

U.S. Air Force Fire Protection specialists play a crucial role in ensuring the safety of people, property and the environment from fires and disasters. The 148th Fighter Wing, Minnesota Air National Guard Fire Department, showcases a unique combination of both civilian and military fire fighters, all of whom are well trained and certified in various aspects of firefighting, emergency medical response, and rescue techniques.

Located on the north side of the runway at the Duluth International Airport, the 148th Fire Department, responds to aircraft and medical emergencies for all tenants of Duluth’s airfield to include the 148th Fighter Wing, Duluth International Airport, Cirrus Design and Monaco Air Duluth.

One of the many responsibilities of the 148th Fire Department is to prepare for the annual Duluth Air Show which hosts military and civilian aviation performers for crowds of 30,000 spectators. This involves thorough research and training, including learning about the Aircraft Assisted Escape Systems, also known as egress systems, for each aircraft performing at the air show. Egress systems are vital safety features on modern aircraft that include mechanisms like explosive-operated ejection seats and canopy jettison systems for emergency situations. 148th fire fighters engage in academic study of these systems, hands-on training with performers, and the creation of detailed books containing aircraft schematics to ensure readiness for any emergency.

Normally staffed by ten fire fighters, 24-hours a day, the 148th Fire Department increases staffing to 18 for air show weekend to ensure they can provide enough staff and emergency vehicles to support a major accident.

Assistant Fire Chief, Ed Stuart, who led the 148th Fire Departments air show preparations in 2023, emphasized the importance of training and collaboration with the performers. Stuart highlighted their close rapport with the air show performers, their attendance at daily safety meetings, and their proactive involvement in planning as key factors in successfully emergency response.

The collaboration paid off on Saturday, July 15th, when two members of the Leap Frog Navy Parachute Team became tangled during their afternoon performance. The parachuters, assigned to the U.S. Naval Special Warfare Command, released and detached at a lower-than-normal altitude and subsequently fell hard. “We saw the fall and felt the fall,” said Stuart. “Air Show regulations require emergency response within 60 seconds, but we were there within 15-seconds,” added Stuart.

The 148th fire fighters were able to respond quickly, in part, because of input from the Leap Frog Navy Parachute Team’s safety expert who was very involved in the Air Show planning process.

“The expertise of the 148th Fire Department and their aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF) mission is critical to the success and safety of the Duluth Airshow”, said Duluth Airshow

President, Ryan Kern. “The FAA requires that the 148th Fire Department respond within 60 seconds of any mishap or accident. The leadership and commitment demonstrated along with training and pre-coordination with all of our performers demonstrates the 148th Fighter Wing commitment to excellence and was instrumental in saving a U.S. Navy Seal’s life during the 2023 Duluth Airshow” added Kern.

On Friday, August 4, 2023, the crew of fire fighters who supported the Leap Frog Navy Parachute Team and the Duluth Air Show were recognized by 148th Fighter Wing Commander, Col. Nate Aysta during a senior leader’s meeting. Aysta, an F-16 pilot, said “there’s not a day I worry about who will respond to my jet if there’s a mishap because I know we have the best emergency response right here at the 148th Fighter Wing.”