It’s not every day you can watch a helicopter land in the middle of Second Street and then see a car’s roof cut off.
And nobody was hurt in either case.
But dozens of kids, and not a few adults, had a chance to experience both events, and several other fun activities besides, on a sunny Saturday afternoon at the Baker City Fire Department.
The open house was the culmination of National Fire Prevention Week.
Among the highlights was the arrival of a Life Flight helicopter from La Grande.
Pilot Micah Budge set down the Agusta 119 chopper in the center of Second Street in front of the Fire Department.
With the aircraft’s four-bladed rotor motionless, children began to clamber around the shiny blue machine.
Flight paramedic Robert Feik made sure the trio of Charlie Baunsgard, 7, and CeCe Baunsgard, 4, visiting from Stayton, and Izzie Conklin, 3, of Baker City, each had a helicopter sticker as they climbed down from the aircraft.
Budge said landing on a city street isn’t especially intimidating, even though the helicopter is rather longer, and taller, than a car.
“It’s very similar to any real call we might get,” the pilot said. “We’re always going to have obstacles.”
In some ways a street is an ideal spot to land, Budge said.
For one thing the asphalt is smooth and, notwithstanding the street’s slight crown, pretty flat. Such accommodating conditions are hardly guaranteed in the emergency situations where Life Flight helicopters are often summoned.
The bigger advantage of the street, though, is what it lacks, Budge said — dust.
When landing in a rural area the chopper’s rotor wash can create a ground blizzard — a “brownout,” Budge calls it — that makes it difficult for the pilot to see the ground.
Fresh snow can cause a similar, albeit whiter, effect.
Fortunately many Life Flight landings are at sites where a fire truck is present, and fire crews can spray water to keep the dust down, Budge said.
Technology has also made flying safer, the pilot said.
Although Budge had never been to the Fire Department before Saturday’s landing, he said he “toured” the area in advance through Google Earth.
“I saw all this before,” he said, gesturing to the radio antenna that juts above the Fire Department, an example of the kind of obstacle a helicopter pilot needs to be aware of.
“It’s a great tool,” Budge said of Google Earth.
While Budge, Feik and flight nurse Neva Jones were entertaining visitors outside, inside the fire station kids donned red plastic fire helmets, toured the department’s ladder truck, munched hot dogs and guzzled apple cider, and navigated a course of orange traffic cones while carrying a doll (simulating a baby) and a length of fire hose.
Kids who completed the course received a certificate.
Younger visitors also left with a bag containing stickers, a water bottle and other treats.
On the lawn in front of the fire station kids had a chance to wield a fire hose and direct its powerful spray (not quite so powerful as what would be used in an actual fire, of course) toward a simulated house propped up on the grass.
In the parking lot behind the fire station a crew of firefighters demonstrated the techniques for extricating injured people from a car following a crash.
Fire Department Lt. Ben Decker narrated to several dozen people who gathered outside to watch firefighters systematically dismantle a Toyota Camry.
Decker pointed out that crews have specific tools designed to pop tires (so the vehicle doesn’t roll) and cut through windshields. Firefighters also wielded hydraulic devices that slice through or push apart even stout pieces of metal to give rescuers access to a trapped driver or passenger.
Crews removed the Camry’s doors and then, after cutting through its supports, lifted off the roof, transforming the sedan into the sort of convertible that no Toyota engineer likely ever conceived.
Baker City Fire Chief John Clark said an estimated 200 people turned out for the open house.
He said the event was intended to be fun as well as educational.
“It’s meant to be a fun interaction where the parents and kids learn more about what we do here, and to raise public awareness about fire safety,” Clark said.
Clark said the city was fortunate to have the Life Flight helicopter available.
He said he intends to make the open house an annual event to coincide with National Fire Prevention Week.