NEWS | May 2, 2022

Fort Pickett Fire Department helps lead response to large commercial fire

By Mike Vrabel | Virginia National Guard Public Affairs Office

Firefighters assigned to the Fort Pickett Fire Department helped tackle a large fire near the installation April 21, 2022, marking one of the department’s largest response operations in recent memory. 

“I am very proud of our Fort Pickett firefighters' quick response to the recent fire at Nottoway Biofuels,” said Col. Timothy Pillion, MTC Fort Pickett’s garrison commander. “This has been a very busy year for them and this is just another testament to their professionalism and value to not only Fort Pickett but the surrounding community.”

Fort Pickett firefighters were first on the scene after calls about a fire at a biofuels facility operated by FDCE Conservation and Bioenergy, adjacent to Fort Pickett on Butterwood Trail, involving large amounts of switchgrass being stored in an expansive, open storage shed. The firefighters first at the scene reported the dried grass and machinery in the shed ablaze, and quickly realized this would be bigger than most of their operations. 

“We were actually the first until on scene, so we assumed command of the incident and started putting water on the fire. It’s right on the edge of post, so technically we’re the closest, but it’s really Nottoway’s first due,” said Chief Danny Clary of the Fort Pickett Fire Department. “Once we got the emergency coordinator from Nottoway here, we switched over to a unified command. We ended up helping call most of the shots throughout the whole thing,” he added, referring to Aubrey “Buddy” Hyde, the Nottoway County Emergency Services Coordinator.

In addition to firefighters from Fort Pickett and rescue crews from Nottoway County, fire crews from Blackstone, Crewe, Kenbridge, Farmville, McKenney and South Hill all descended on the scene to help control the fire. In total, nearly 50 personnel helped fight the blaze, including 18 from Fort Pickett. 

Despite the large response, the burning piles of grass proved a difficult situation to deal with. Crews had to use specialized vehicles and equipment to help drag the burning material out of the storage shed in an effort to help extinguish it. 

“We tried to put it out, but when dealing with something like that, it’s like hay. You can’t really put it out but so well. So we knocked it down enough and spread it out to keep the flames down to a degree,” said Clary. “We had to get Bobcats up in there and drag the material out and spread it out around the building so we could wet it down. They were hosing it down as they pulled it out, trying to get it as much out as we could.”

Clary estimated the firefighters used as much as 200,000 gallons of water to put out the fire, using drop tanks filled at hydrants on post and moved to the scene. 

In addition to the water tanker, Fort Pickett used two fire engines, two brush trucks and two utility vehicles to help fight the fire. They were also able to deploy one of their newest vehicles, a command vehicle which was set up as the command post for the operation, using a telescoping pole with a mounted camera to help keep an eye on the entire operation. 

“That truck technically isn’t in service yet, but we pieced it together enough to use it,” Clary said. 

No one was injured during the response, which ended up being one of the largest operations in recent memory for the Fort Pickett Fire Department. 

“For us, it’s probably been a really good while. We’ve been into Blackstone and helped with some big events, but usually we don’t send that magnitude. But, being that it was right here on the edge of post and we were first on scene, a lot of our assets got devoted to it,” said Clary. 

He added that recent inter-agency training for his department helped prepare his crews for the joint operation. 

“The Incident Management Team certification course we’ve been sending people off to over the last six months - that came into play big time in using the whole command post. That training came into good use,” Clary said. “The first arriving officer, who is a newly-promoted lieutenant for the department, did an outstanding job getting everything set up. We brought in Mr. Hyde from Nottoway County and established a unified command between us. Everyone worked real well together.”

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