Firefighters, pilots gather in Hutchinson for wildfire training


HUTCHINSON, Kan. (KSNW) – The threat of wildfires in Kansas is highest starting in January, but this time crews on the ground in Reno County will have help fighting the flames from above.

Wednesday, dozens of crop dusters piled into Hutchinson’s airport to learn how to assist emergency firefighters during the threatening months.

“Our airplanes are down for the winter for maintenance and everything so it’s a really good time for us to concentrate on this,” said longtime crop duster and pilot Dusty Dowd. “Fire season starts in January. That’s when it’s normally accepted time. We got to be ready to go January 1.”

Flying a plane is not a new task for the 30 crop dusters that showed up to Wednesday’s training, but spraying 500 gallons of water over a quickly blazing fire is a new experience for most of these men.

“It’s not about learning how to fly the plane, it’s just to learn different tactics that firefighters will be using,” said Rodney Redinger, Kansas Forest Service representative. “We’re learning different terminology that firefighters will use so that when we’re communicating on where we want to drop then we can all speak the same language.”

Kansas Fire Chiefs and Kansas Agricultural Aviation Association and Forest Services joined dozens of crop dusters to expose them to what first responders experience when a fire has gotten out of control.

“Unfortunately, it takes a year like last year: 710,000 acres burned,” explained pilot Dowd who also organized the training. “In 2016, there was 349,000 acres burned so unfortunately, hindsight is better than foresight.”

The training today was a group effort. Before the planes take off they are serviced and then loaded with 500 gallons of water. But it’s in the air where those crop dusting skills pay off. All that water is dumped within a matter of seconds. Learning that precision is an important key to quickly putting out fires.

“The ag pilots are a great group of guys and they really want to help out and get things done,” said Redinger. “To have 30 show up on the first training session is awesome.”

This is the first emergency response training for crop dusters but those in attendance say, they hope it’s not the last.

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