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Station awarded for heroism during jet crash

By Pfc. M. Daniel Sanchez | | August 23, 2006

The International Association of Fire Chiefs will present the station with a certificate as the Marine Corps’ Fire and Emergency Services Heroism Award first runner-up nominee in Dallas on Sept. 15 for its actions during a mishap involving an AV-8B Harrier II aircraft in June of 2005.

The aircraft, belonging to Marine Attack Squadron 513, crashed in a residential area near Yuma’s Wal-Mart with a load of four 500-pound bombs and 300 rounds of 25-mm ammunition, which left Yuma and station emergency services only minutes to respond to the situation.

“We were filling water barriers for the Provost Marshals Office when we heard the call on the radio about an aircraft crash,” said Arthur Chavez, assistant chief of training for the station fire department, remembering the day’s events. “At first we didn’t believe it, but then we looked out to the north and could see the smoke, so we knew it was the real deal.

“Aircraft rescue firefighting came around on the north end and we came around the south and tag-teamed the fire. It was kind of surreal seeing an aircraft in the pool of someone’s back yard,” said Chavez.

Looking back, all the services took a huge risk being around that site, said Chavez. The different law enforcement and emergency services worked together so well, each of the first response units were able do their job and prevent something disastrous from occurring.

Even though the station didn’t get the first-place nomination, it doesn’t undermine what the base and local law enforcement accomplished, said Kevin King, Marine Corps Fire Protection Program manager. It’s ironic because the station handled the incident so well it seemed as if the crash was only a minor mishap.

Lawrence K. Nelson, mayor of Yuma, said it makes him feel very safe and comfortable to know that in his absence, the city and the base were able to work together to ensure the safety of Yuma’s citizens.

The city of Yuma is lucky to have such a phenomenal partnership within the community, waiting to help at a moments notice, said Nelson.

The award is typically given to firefighters as an individual or team, but because of the mass amount of individuals from different emergency services involved in resolving the situation and the nature of the mishap, it seemed only appropriate for the nomination to encompass those individuals, said Patrick Bailey, station fire department fire chief.

“I wanted to get away from recognizing just the first responders and highlight how other units on the base came together to do the right thing,” said Bailey. “I think that may be why the station didn’t receive first place. The judges weren’t used to seeing a group of individuals outside of firefighting competing for the honor. But I’m still thankful that we received some form of recognition.”

There was no individual group who did most of the work, but instead it was a massive effort by many highly-trained and dedicated professionals, said Gunnery Sgt. Freddy King, ARFF crash chief. Bailey had it right in submitting the nomination to encompass all the people who put their lives on the line.

The entire event proved the effectiveness and quality of training of the first responders on station, said Bailey.

Without the help of ARFF, PMO, explosive ordnance disposal, Installation and Logistics and many other sections on base, the day could have turned into a disaster, said Bailey.

The bottom line is that every Marine and civilian who went out to that site put their lives on the line and is a true hero.

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