Fire At The Gate!!

Posted 11/16/03

By James Searcy

 It was April 28, 1970 and I was working in the airfreight building at IND, about a half-mile away from the passenger terminal. An otherwise routine day suddenly got very exciting when we heard that a 707, aircraft #7743, was on fire at the gate. Since I was a volunteer firefighter in my small community of Avon, Indiana, I ran to the scene to see if I could help. The fire had been burning for approximately 45 minutes, and the interior of the aircraft was totally engulfed with a hole burned thru the fuselage skin. The airport firemen were having little success -- they had the plane surrounded and were spraying foam on the outside, but the flames inside raged on.

At Avon FD we had no hydrants and very little water, so we were taught to quickly make entry and take the fight to the fire. With that in mind, I asked a TWA foreman if he wanted me to put the fire out and he said, "If you can, then do it!" At this time the local Wayne Township Fire Department arrived, and on the first truck I recognized a friend, off-duty ramp serviceman Bob Ashby, who was a member of their volunteer firefighting crew. I asked Bob for an Air Pak, and together we made entry into the aircraft. It was like looking into Hell -- everything from the first class galley back was burning, and the heat was so bad Bob had to leave. I was able to stay because of my position near the open forward galley door, and the airport firemen sprayed foam thru the door to cover me.

It took at least an hour to knock the fire down and I used up 2 Air Paks. When it was all over, the aircraft was totally ruined, but at least it didn’t blow up. The fire had been discovered by the aircraft fueler just after he had finished pumping 117,000 lbs of Jet A on board. If the fire had reached the 707’s fuel tanks, the explosion probably would have taken out part of the terminal and all of us too. Fortunately, no one was killed or even injured in the incident.

Weeks later, our regional VP John Truex presented Bob and me with cash rewards, an extra week of vacation and ‘round-the-world passes. It was Royal Ambassador service and needless to say, a very great and exciting vacation.

I am grateful for the time I had with TWA … I always thought we were a great company and a great company to work for.

Jim Searcy (1966-1989) worked as a ramp serviceman and aircraft fueler at IND and STL. 

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