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Base firefighters respond to aircraft crash

(From left) Jim Barnes, Tom Kennedy, Daniel Trask, Scott DeHart and Brian Kissinger were part of the crew that responded to an aircraft crash at Schenectady County Airport on Sept. 23. They are all Stratton Air National Guard firefighters. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Willie Gizara)

(From left) Jim Barnes, Tom Kennedy, Daniel Trask, Scott DeHart and Brian Kissinger were part of the crew that responded to an aircraft crash at Schenectady County Airport on Sept. 23. They are all Stratton Air National Guard firefighters. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Willie Gizara)

STRATTON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.Y. -- Firefighters stationed here were the first to respond to an aircraft crash across the flightline at Schenectady County Airport on Sept. 23 at about 3 p.m.

The team was on scene within two minutes of the call. They quickly extinguished the fire and worked to get the man out of the aircraft.

The crew said when they arrived on scene it was "controlled chaos."

"There was heavy smoke and fire," said Firefighter Scott DeHart. "Everyone was yelling; the pilot was still in the airplane."

DeHart and Fire Station Capt. Daniel Trask were the first on the scene with their truck to extinguish the fire. Firefighter Brian Kissinger was right behind them to try and remove the pilot from the aircraft.

"I went to check on him to see if he was conscience, and at the time he was semi-conscious," he said.

The way the plane had landed, there was only a small space to get into, so the firefighters had to figure out a way to make the opening larger to get the pilot out.

"There was a moment where I had to stop and think, 'How am I going to get this guy out without making the injuries worse?'" Kissinger said. "My concern was to get him out as quickly as possible but not make his injuries worse.

"We airbagged the left wing up to gain better access," Kissinger said. "We then ended up airbagging the tail to pull the fuselage off (the pilot)."

After about 35 minutes, firefighters were able to free the pilot. He was then taken to Ellis Hospital and soon after transported to Albany Medical Hospital

If the firefighters had arrived two minutes later, the pilot most likely would have died.

"We all tried our best to save his life," Kissinger said.

"Our response was partially from training and partially just acting," said Jim Barnes. "The biggest thing is that you get the training so that when you are acting, you're acting the correct way."

Other volunteer firefighters were also on scene from Thomas Corners, Alplaus and East Glenville.

"It was a team effort," Kissinger said. "It wasn't just us, with the manpower we had, we couldn't have done it."

The Stratton crew on scene included DeHart, Trask, Kissinger, Barnes, Chief Master Sgt. James Acors, Fire Station Chief Tom Kennedy and Staff Sgt. Chris Menge. David Vadney was the dispatcher.

The pilot of the one-person plane was last known to be listed in critical condition at Albany Medical Hospital.

The aircraft was described as an experimental plane built to look like a World War II-era P-51 fighter plane. An Empire State Aerosciences Museum employee told the Times Union the pilot lost control at the end of the runway during takeoff, hit some trees and landed upside-down.