It Only Takes A Spark

C 421 and smokeWalt Driediger (FMS maintenance specialist) had smelled smoke at the airport before, so he didn't think it was that unusual Monday afternoon, when he walked from the maintenance office into the hangar and smelled smoke. “It was God at work,” said Walt. “He prompted me to go outside and look.” What he saw was a grass fire approaching the hangar. He went back in the hangar and informed the other guys. “Hey, guys! Do you know there's a fire out there?”

Pilots, administrators, and hangar assistants all rushed out of the hangar onto the ramp. They saw smoke billowing across the vacant lot between them and the hangar to the west. The wind was blowing hard from the west, and the smoke was very thick. “By the time I went in the hangar and came out with the rest of the guys, the fire was an awful lot closer than I thought it would have been,” said Walt. “We didn't have time to be scared. We just did what we had to do.”

There were two aircraft in the path of the fire,” said Mark Spicer (Director of Operations). “We rushed back into the hangar for tow bars and split up into two groups.” Each group pulled one aircraft out of harm's way. While the guys were moving the aircraft, Managing Director Bob Patterson, ran back into the hangar and phoned the airport fire department. In the meantime, the guys realized that the fire was moving much faster than they had thought. “It was racing toward the hangar,” said Walt. The flames were also headed directly toward the FMS fuel shed, which was locked. Patrick Tsheko (hangar assistant) quickly removed the combination lock from the door, and Patrick, Walt, and Mark pulled the fuel bowser out of the shed and across the ramp to safety.

After the fuel bowser was pulled to safety, some of the workers from the neighboring hangar came over to help extinguish the flames. All four of Flying Mission's fire extinguishers were emptied in the effort to hold the fire at bay until the fire department arrived. When the fire department arrived, they started quickly to soak the flames but then realized that they would need to move downwind of the fire in order to put it out. The fire truck then ran out of water but not before the firefighters managed to battle the fire down to smoldering embers. “There were 20 or 30 spots still smoking,” said Walt. “I grabbed a shovel and went across the field putting out the smoldering embers.”

Fire at hangarThe fire stopped just a couple of metres from the Flying Mission hangar. “The wind was howling,” said Tim Schubert (Chief Pilot). “It was unbelievable. Without the wind, it wouldn't have been bad, but the wind pushed the fire right up to the hangar.” Fortunately there was only minor heat and smoke damage to the hangar. The FMS workers who fought the fire also suffered from the smoke and complained of aching lungs.

The fire was caused when sparks from a metal grinding project at the neighboring hangar landed on the dry grass in the vacant lot. “I'm not a hero,” said Walt. “I just happened to be the first to see the fire.” Everyone at FMS is very thankful that Walt saw the fire when he did. If he had walked out of the hangar one minute later, this story could have had a different ending.