Close Yet Far: A Rescue Story

  • Published
  • Vermont Air National Guard

By Tech. Sgt. Garth Dunkel

Recently, an active duty Airman assigned to the 158th Fighter Wing in South Burlington, Vermont experienced a very close call.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jason Barta, the 315th Fighter Squadron Commander and F-16 Fighter Pilot was exercising at the base gym. Somewhere during the course of his regimen, he lost consciousness.

“At some point during my workout I collapsed and went into sudden cardiac arrest. At the time, there was nobody in there... by the time the fire department showed up, I stopped breathing and my heart stopped,” mentioned Barta.

Fortunately, Tech. Sgt. Matthew Gay, of the 158th Maintenance Group, discovered the unconscious and unresponsive Barta on the floor. Gay administered CPR and directed another Airman to call 9-1-1. Within two minutes, the 158th Fighter Wing’s Fire Department personnel arrived and rendered care.

Moments later, local mutual aid responders from St. Michaels College Rescue and South Burlington’s Fire Department arrived on base to assist in efforts that ultimately saved Barta’s life.

“We have a pretty extensive mutual aid operating agreement with the surrounding communities, as well as the county and we do as much training as we can fit in feasibly because we still have a job to do,” said Captain Timothy Francis, assigned to the Vermont Air National Guard Fire Department and a traditional member of the unit.

“By training with them (local departments), we’re able to integrate and make sure that all of our people are doing stuff the same way which helps (emergency) calls go smoother… the mutual aid agreement with surrounding departments has been around since the mid-eighties,” noted Assistant Chief Brannon Soter, also assigned to the 158th Fighter Wing and Fire Department.

A U.S. Air Force fire fighter graduates initial training with several certificates; a requirement for prospective members of the 158th Fighter Wing Fire Department. This foundation is preparation for unit-specific training for new members once on-station.

“Once back (from training) we do 180-days of seasoning for our military members and (then) we do a six-month state status. During the first year of employment, you must get or possess an EMT certification… In order to be an Air Force Fire Fighter, you have to be certified at the national fire fighter 2 level,” stated Francis.

Department leadership require all members of their team to excel in every circumstances regardless of situational stressors.

“(We respond to) around five to six hundred calls a year… (Barta) is the first person I’ve ever seen come back. So for me, Captain Francis and the engine crew did everything right,” said Soter.

The Vermont Air National Guard Fire Department work around the clock in the event they’re needed to save or rescue lives on and off station. The responsibility to safeguard the human resource is heavy and immeasurable because it is 158th Fighter Wing’s most precious asset.