Emergency responders in Conway were given the opportunity to learn basic aircraft functions should they ever have to respond to a military aircraft crash.
“This is a training opportunity to improve interagency cooperation and foster a better working relationship between the Arkansas Army National Guard, and state and local emergency personnel,” Arkansas National Guard Public Affairs Officer Maj. W.B. Phillips said. “In the highly unlikely event that a military helicopter would be involved in a crash, local first responders would be the first on scene.”
Training was held at the Conway Municipal Airport on Friday.
CW4 Michael McWilliams with the Arkansas National Guard’s 77th Combat Aviation Brigade led the training.
McWilliams heads aircraft accident training and said the idea to branch out to local first responders hit him while he was conducting a pre-accident exercise three years ago. This was the first year the Arkansas National Guard stopped by to train Conway first responders.
The training was held “in a relaxed environment to give the guys and girls from the first responder community the chance … [to have] a primary focus for their response if they should respond if [a military aircraft] crashed out in the local community” without the chaos of people climbing in and out of the aircraft as they would during an airshow, McWilliams said.
Two Arkansas National Guard helicopters — a UH-60 Black Hawk and a UH-72 Lakota — were showcased during Friday’s training.
McWillams said first responders learned to shut off the engines, secure fuel pumps, how to remove passengers from seats and other basic aircraft functions.
He said he is open to expanding the program and reaching out to other first responders in the state.
“My hope is that one day we can evolve if we get enough recognition from this,” he said. “Maybe some of the other counties between here and Fort Smith would say, ‘That’s something we’d like to get for our first responders.’”
Faulkner County Office of Emergency Management Director Sheila Bellot said Friday’s training was two-fold in that it also gave first responders the opportunity to connect.
“One of the biggest things we take back from training and [other] exercises is the networking,” she said.
Agencies learning what other agencies’ strengths and resources are helps when responding to any incident, she said.