Sheppard FD provides mutual aid on a busy Saturday

  • Published
  • By John Ingle
  • 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – As one of the busiest stations in the Air Force, the Sheppard AFB Fire Department has pretty much seen everything, from in-flight and ground emergencies, to sweeping wildfires, structure fires and medical calls.

Jan. 8, 2022, was a bit unusual for the department when crews were dispatched to assist in a derailed train mishap some 42 miles west of Sheppard near the small farming community of Oklaunion, Texas. The train, operated by BNSF Railway, was hauling denatured alcohol in tanker cars.

If that wasn’t enough, those not dispatched to the derailment were busy at Sheppard with a civilian in-flight emergency.

Chief David Mounsey, who has been with the department since 2008, said Saturdays typically have the least amount of responses during the week, but this particular Saturday was highly active.

Sheppard AFB Fire Department Responses (2020 and 2021)
Incidents 2020 2021 +/-
In-flight emergencies 291 420 129
Emergency Medical Services 301 319 18
Structure 101 141 40
Mutual Aid 34 65 31
HazMat 31 29 2
Ground Emergencies 17 19 2
Confined Space 10 11 1
Wildland Fires 2 4 2
Vehicle 8 2 6
Total 795 1,010  

“Everybody performed magnificently,” he said. “This is what we’re trained to do, and we’re prepared to do it.”

According to a BNSF media release, the company received a preliminary report of the derailment at about 10 a.m. Cause of the accident is under investigation.

Mounsey said a call for mutual aid support came in at about 10:30 a.m. as on-scene crews knew the Sheppard department had a bulk quantity of foam used to suppress fuel fires. The foam trailer, which holds 700 gallons of the retardant, and a crash truck were dispatched to the scene. Sheppard units were put in a staging area in preparation to assist BNSF efforts to contain and put out the fire.

Sheppard FD later deployed two water tenders to the scene to participate in providing the large amount of water needed to fight the blaze. The chief said in all, about 10 water tenders from Wichita, Wilbarger and Clay counties responded to the scene.

Mounsey said the base’s water tenders – one from Sheppard and one from Hacker Field near Frederick, Oklahoma – played a significant support role as they hauled 50,000 gallons of water back and forth from Vernon just a few miles away. The tenders have a capacity of 4,000 gallons each.

The chief said this was not a normal mutual aid call for the department because they don’t have an agreement with the city of Vernon or Wilbarger County as it does with departments closer to the base. That required up-channeling the request to Brig. Gen. Lyle Drew, who gave the green light for crews to respond.

“That’s a long way to take those large trucks,” he said. “We got out there, we did what was required of us out there and we all got back safely with no injuries and no damage to the trucks.”

The department’s presence at the scene lasted until 1 a.m. on Sunday. The chief said they were able to relieve the initial response crew during the day.

The remaining crews at Sheppard had their own emergency to manage when a call from the Wichita Falls airport manager came in at about 3:45 p.m. with a report of a small civilian Cessna 310 with landing gear trouble.

Mounsey said the 76-year-old pilot had taken off from Kickapoo Downtown Airport about 15 minutes away in Wichita Falls, Texas, and wanted to return there to land. The chief said the airport manager redirected the pilot to land at the joint-use airfield at the base because of the because of the aircraft rescue firefighting equipment here. The pilot was able to land the aircraft with the nose gear still up without incident.

Responding to in-flight emergencies is commonplace for the department, Mounsey said.

“It was pretty routine,” he said. “We had 450 IFEs last year, including civilian aircraft. I hate to use routine because anything could happen with any of them. He did a perfect job of landing the airplane.”

Wichita Falls Regional Airport and Sheppard crews worked together to safely remove the Cessna from the runway.

According to statistics provided by the department, the Sheppard FD saw a significant increase in activity in 2021 compared to the previous year. In all, the department responded to 1,010 calls last year, 215 more than in 2020. Of those calls, 420 were IFEs in 2021, compared to 291 in 2020.

Mutual aid calls more than doubled year over year from 34 to 65 in 2021.

“We support our communities because this is our community as well,” Mounsey said. “We gain a lot from emergency responses that provides us the experience to be better prepared while supporting our communities.”