The story behind the only firefighting aircraft in Kansas
HUTCHINSON, Kan. (KAKE) - Preparation is underway for the winds forecasted this week at the Hutchinson Regional Airport, as the ground crew does finishing touches on Tanker 95.
The only firefighting aircraft of it's kind in Kansas.
"People thought I was nuts,” said Bill Garrison, the pilot of Tanker 95.
Garrison is no stranger to helping put out fires; he first started helping locally in 2005 with his crop duster.
It wasn't until 2019, he made the decision to buy this tanker to help more.
Garrison said, "It's kind of a big responsibility. You know, knowing that you're the only one around and you know, you got to be there to help out the fire department."
The tanker itself is 64 years old, but it’s already spent hundreds of hours putting out wildfires in Kansas.
In partnership with the Kansas Forest Service, Garrison loads up the tanker with 400 gallons of water at a time to be dropped in areas where the fire is worst.
"It's extremely helpful especially when fires like we anticipate for tomorrow if it starts it's going to get big in a hurry. So it takes time to get fire trucks there,” said Rodney Redinger, the Assistant Fire Management Officer over operations for the Kansas Forest Service.
With the help of it’s ground crew the tanker also comes back to refill quickly.
"As soon as they disconnect, he throttles up and away he goes again, I think total turnaround times about four or five minutes,” said Pieter Miller, the Airport Manager for Hutchinson Regional Airport.
With this week being wildfire awareness week, the KFS is trying to make people aware of the potential hazards that caused fires like the four county fire in western Kansas in December and the fire in Hutchinson just last week.
Redinger said, "We've been extremely dry across the state. And then you couple that with strong winds and low humidities. It's going to make fighting and fire extremely difficult."
Garrison said he'll be ready for whatever Kansas has to throw at him and the difference he's making along the way.
"What is it like? You know, impacting so many people's lives that you don't even know,” said KAKE’s Hannah Baker.
"Humbling, that's the best way to describe it,” said Garrison.
"And that's why you keep doing it,” said Baker.
"Yeah, cause you're helping people out. So when it's all said and done, it's about you helping people,” said Garrison.
Right now, this Fire Aviation Program is still relatively new to Kansas, but the crew is hoping to see it expand with the possibilities of a new aircraft and a bigger budget from the state.
They say one way you can make a difference and help is to contact state lawmakers to help further the process.