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Pilot spots fire, alerts authoritiesPilot spots fire, alerts authorities

Volunteer firefighters in Harford County, Maryland, pull water from a stream to fight a blaze that a local pilot spotted from 1,500 feet. Photo courtesy Harford County, Maryland, Fire and EMS Public Information Office.

Aaron Harrington’s wife asked him over dinner this week what his dream job would be. “Putting out fires in a [Canadair] CL-215,” he said.

Just a day later, the aerospace engineer from Edgewood, Maryland, found himself in a Bellanca Citabria circling at about 1,500 feet over a building fire in Harford County, Maryland, calling emergency personnel to alert them of the location.

Harrington, a part-time flight instructor based at Harford County Airport (0W3) in Churchville, Maryland, and student pilot Mike Postowski had departed the airport on March 30 and were planning to spend the warm afternoon practicing VOR tracking. They were flying Harford Air Services’ Citabria.

“You see people with leaf piles and small fires all the time,” Harrington said. “When we first took off we saw [smoke], but we didn’t think anything of it. After a few minutes tracking VORs, I turned, and it was a lot more smoke than a normal brush fire. We went to check it out.”

They flew over to see billows of thick smoke, a utility building engulfed in flames and precipitously close to a residential home, and no sign of fire trucks or emergency equipment. Harrington used the Bluetooth connection on his Bose A20 headset to call 911.

“Cell phone coverage doesn’t work too well at 2,000 feet,” Harrington said, but “I was able to get hold of them and tell them where I was at.” He used ForeFlight to pinpoint the location for the emergency responders. A few seconds later the call dropped, but Harrington called back to ensure the message got through. He and Postowski circled the area until they saw fire trucks en route.

Fire companies in Harford County and York County, Pennsylvania, responded to the fire at Heaps School Road. The building contained a wood shop, TV/recreation room, and a humidor holding more than 2,000 cigars, according to The Baltimore Sun. No one was injured.

Jill W. Tallman

Jill W. Tallman

AOPA Technical Editor
AOPA Technical Editor Jill W. Tallman is an instrument-rated private pilot who owns a Piper Cherokee 140.
Topics: Pilots, Technology

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