Airport firefighters save lives – and Christmas

Two days before Christmas the worst blizzard to hit Buffalo in modern history grounded all air travel for the region. The Buffalo Airport’s Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting team waited in the firehouse, warm and dry but far from relaxed. They could hear the region’s distress all over the shared radio channels. Mutual aid is the industry term; first-responders poised to help other first-responders help anyone in need. They were ready, willing, and not expecting the call to come from 1,000 feet away.

A family of six sat trapped in a car on Aero Dr., the road running next to the Airport. They had attempted a drive to a nearby hotel, fleeing their powerless home. The parents wanted to keep their children, ages eight, four, two and just nine-months, from the deadly cold. Firefighters Mike Carrubba and Mark Wolhfiel, with Assistant Chief Joel Eberth, geared up and got out in the chaos. 70mph winds, zero visibility, five-foot high and ever-shifting drifts – Eberth simply said, “it took a long time” to reach the stuck car.

It turned out to be cars. In the tunnel under the runway, the rescue team discovered multiple vehicles and filled with people caught in the storm. The firefighters set up an elaborate chain of trucks and equipment to ferry the stranded through the blinding snow, up to the firehouse. Over the course of the next two hours, ARFF evacuated 42 people of all ages.

Saving lives is one thing, saving Christmas is something else altogether. Four children were now stuck in firehouse on Christmas Eve, with no prospect of leaving. Santa found them, despite their odd location, by way of a plow truck delivery from the Airport terminal. Elves found enough gift-shop goodies to make it an unforgettable Christmas morning.

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