In the blink of an eye, race cars on the dirt track at Brownstown Speedway could flip upside down or catch fire.
In those instances, personnel with the Brownstown Volunteer Fire Department spring into action.
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Chief Travis McElfresh said it’s not uncommon for firefighters to do that five or six times on one night of racing.
Many times, it becomes personal because firefighters know the drivers they are helping, firefighter Logan Isenhower said.
That’s why time and money were invested into setting up one of the department’s brush trucks to be specifically equipped to respond to incidents at the speedway.
After receiving approval from the department’s board, McElfresh worked for a couple of months this year to get the truck ready for use during the racing season. Overall, he said it took about $40,000.
Speedway promoter Jim Price appreciated the department’s investment, McElfresh said.
“When you talk to him, he’s a whole lot more relaxed now than what we was knowing how capable we are now and the effort that we’ve put into it on our side without him saying, ‘Hey, can you guys do this?’” McElfresh said. “Everything we’ve done, we’ve seen that we’ve needed and took the initiative to get it.”
Isenhower said the firefighters were on board, too.
“I think a lot of guys pushed for it because so many of us have friends and family that actually race at the racetrack,” he said. “We’ve done it for years, and we know how bad it can happen when it does happen, so we’ve just all kind of really pushed hard for doing the best job we can.”
McElfresh said as chief, any purchase he makes that’s more than $500 has to be approved by the board.
“Everything we’ve presented to them on this truck, they’ve not batted an eye because everything has been safety-oriented,” he said.
Work on the truck began in February. The first step was to take the console out of the truck so extinguishers could be stored there.
Then McElfresh had Jason Hallett with Fabwell Fabrication in Seymour custom-build a bed to fit on the truck. Before, it had a short bed.
That was done to accommodate the skid unit, which is the most expensive part of the truck at around $12,000. The unit includes a water tank and an engine that’s all self-contained.
A toolbox was added to each side of the truck bed to store equipment, including battery-powered Sawzalls, Jaws of Life, combination extrication tools, drills and batteries.
The last piece for the truck was a compressed air foam system, which was $4,000.
“A lot of the (racers) are running alcohol in their cars, and normal water and foam is I wouldn’t say useless, but it’s not very efficient to use on fires,” McElfresh said.
With the system, he said the second the trigger is squeezed, foam comes out.
Each firefighter on the truck has a 16-ounce pressurized can on their belt holster, and its contents are equivalent to a fire extinguisher.
“If you’ve got a guy in a car upside down and one of our guys crawled inside to get the guy out, if something happens, he’s got a 16-ounce extinguisher on his side that he can use,” McElfresh said.
The firefighters also wear special racetrack gear that’s extrication and fire-retardant. It weighs less than the gear they normally wear on fire runs, McElfresh said.
The department has four firefighters in the truck on each race night. McElfresh said two or three are available to extricate someone if necessary, while another person would man the handline for fire suppression.
Firefighters in the truck have received motorsports training. It’s not required, but McElfresh said two-thirds of the department’s 21 volunteer firefighters are trained.
“None of this stuff is worth a dollar if the guys riding in the truck don’t know how to use it and don’t know how to use it properly,” he said. “That’s one reason why we’re strict on who goes (to races). We let some guys that are not as highly trained go, but we make sure that we’re offset in the truck that we’ve got guys that are highly trained in the truck with the other guys.”
That training is crucial because race cars are totally different than typical vehicles.
“Race cars are just so much more different than regular passenger cars — they way they flex, they fuel that they use,” Isenhower said. “There are just so many more things you have to think about than you do just a regular passenger car.”
McElfresh said the chassis on a race car is made of tubes that are all tied together.
“If you’ve got a car that’s lying upside down, you make one wrong cut, and you’ll compress the car without knowing it,” he said. “Everybody knows how to cut a regular vehicle up that’s on the fire department, but when you get in a race car, there are bars to cut and bars you don’t cut.”
Isenhower said the Kentucky Speedway in Sparta offers a two-day motorsports training class.
“NASCAR, sprint cars, late models — they have every race car sitting out there, and they take you from Step A to Step Z,” he said.
While the speedway truck still can be used for brush fires, extrication runs and vehicle fires, it is used for speedway incidents 75 percent of the time, McElfresh said.
It’s at the speedway for every race along with a Jackson County Emergency Medical Services ambulance.
Isenhower said for several years, the fire department had two trucks at the speedway, but it took a lot of time to stock them with equipment and then have to unload everything after the races.
A few years ago, fire departments in the county took turns doing race coverage until track management decided to cut them out to save money.
“They just put a few guys in a truck and said, ‘That’s good enough,’ and then somebody got hurt,” Isenhower said. “The next thing you know, we’re back out there again.”
That restarted when Price came on board three years ago and has been maintained ever since.
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Check out a video about the Brownstown Volunteer Fire Department’s rescue truck built specifically for Brownstown Speedway on the speedway’s Facebook page under “Videos.”