Tennessee Army National Guard continues to battle East Tennessee fires

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JACKSON, Tenn — Local hidden heroes are helping to take the heat off a fiery situation.

“You just want to help,” said Chief Warrant officer Blake Hardison of the Tennessee Army National Guard.

For weeks, the Tennessee Army National Guard located in Jackson has been flying out helping fight the fires raging in East Tennessee.

“We’re tasked everyday from the Tennessee Forestry Department with spotting and locating fires and then using local water sources to fight them in various different ways,” said Chief Warrant Officer Hardison.

A new mission Hardison said is a learning experience.

“The firefighting part is new to all of us, we’re a former scout attack unit and we have been flying the Black Hawk for about a year now, so a lot of this is trial and error,” Hardison said.

The crews leave for the hour-flight to Chattanooga around 5 a.m. and sometimes do not get back until late that night.

“The fires are actually right down the road from where I use to live,” Hardison said.

Making it a personal mission for the Chattanooga native.

“They asked for volunteers because they were not sure how much help they were going to need from West Tennessee, so when I heard about the area I jumped on the opportunity to be apart of it,” Haridison said.

But it is a team effort.

“There’s a lot of people who work here who have been doing it a very very long time,” Hardison said.

First Sergeant Kenny Kendrick has been in the air for almost 20 years and does not plan to come down anytime soon.

“This is a great opportunity as an aircrew member to help the people in our state with this mission,” Kendrick said.

“It’s an orchestra, it’s a very coordinated effort and we just do our best to get ahead of the fire more than anything and once we got ahead of it then the actual process of putting the fire out occurs,” Hardison said.

Every aircraft has two pilots, two crew chiefs, and a special person joining them from the forestry department.

The crews use what they call a “Bambi Bucket” and get water from local ponds and rivers.

“We have a 750 gallon capacity in our water bucket and when we drop it on the fire we try to get it in the best place to do the most good,”Kendrick said.

The crews can work up to 12 hour days dumping over 30 buckets a day.

“It’s elating, we’re high-fiving and we’re just ‘gun-ho’ about it,” Hardison said.

He said they are proud to serve.

“It’s our job, not only do we get paid to do it but there’s a great amount of pride in doing the job and helping your state out and also being able to reach out and help other states out,” Hardison said.

“We just appreciate the opportunity to help people and it’s very gratifying to be apart of this mission,” Kendrick said.

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