Keesler firefighters respond to Black Hawk crash during Iraq deployment

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

BILOXI, MS  (WLOX) - Six firefighters from Keesler are back home following a memorable mission in Iraq. Among their emergency calls during the four month deployment was a medical rescue mission involving a downed Black Hawk helicopter.

Their training at Keesler had them well prepared for the overseas assignment. They respond to fires and medical calls on Keesler Air Force base and spend countless hours training.

Both duties helped prepare the six Keesler firefighters for their deployment in Iraq.

"We were busy with structural responses, medical responses. We did work the airfield while we were there. So, we had to deal with the aircraft and in-flight emergencies," said fireman Brian Gunkel.

Driver, Mark Born is a three year firefighter at Keesler. He says the four months at Balad Air Base in Iraq were intense, so teamwork was critical.

"You've got to expect the worst that could happen. So, you've got to trust all these other guys. That they're going to have your back in any situation," said Born.

That teamwork was tested when the firefighters got a nighttime call to a helicopter accident.  The heart pounding drama depicted in the movie, "Black Hawk Down," was suddenly real.

"It was a freak storm that came out of nowhere, a lot of rain, lot of dust," said Gunkel.

"It was definitely an adrenaline rush. Good thing I had experience that I had learned from Keesler and from the Air Force and fire department academy. My instincts kicked in. I knew what to do," said firefighter Michael Kehoe.

"With all our training and everything, people just kind of mellow out. You have a lot of adrenaline going at first, but everything starts to fall into place. It seems like real chaos, but you'd be surprised at how well everything works together," said Born.

"We're paying you $30,000 a year to go risk your life in a foreign country, be away from your family for six months. It's hero stuff," said Chief Damian Orslene, as he praised his men for a job well done.

These humble heros consider it their daily duty. They live and train with a certain mindset.

"Able to help people in a time of need. That was the biggest thing. And why I did become a fireman," said Kehoe, echoing the thoughts of other Keesler firefighters.

Two soldiers were killed in that Black Hawk crash, which happened on September 20th.

Eleven others survived the accident, thanks in large part to the Keesler firefighters and other emergency responders who got the call.

©2009 WLOX. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.