Hams Credit Firefighters With Saving Lives

A group dedicated to public service is thankful for the actions of another. Two Amateur "Ham" Radio Operators were badly burned Sunday when an antenna came in contact with power lines. The President of the Wichita Amateur Radio Society, Terry Morton, credits the Iowa Park Volunteer Fire Department with saving the men's lives.

The Hams were participating in a global event called Field Day. It is designed to prepare Amateur Operators to provide an emergency communications infrastructure in times of crisis. The event was being held at the Rotary Pavilion near Gordon Lake in Iowa Park. Sunday morning, the wind blew an antenna erected for the exercise into power lines. Danny Caldwell and Mike Byrne were shocked and burned badly. Within minutes of the accident, Iowa Park VFD First Responders were on scene.

The scene was hectic, said IPVFD Assistant Chief Andy Payne. "I would call it mass chaos at that time," he said. Payne says bystanders were working to render aid to the men. "First thing that came to my mind is launch the helicopter. We need early activation on that," said Payne.

Crews knew the scope of the situation, and what electricity can do to the Human body. "It can stop your heart, burn you, send your heart into an irregular rhythm," said Lt. Mike McCarty – an EMT Intermediate. McCarty worked to evaluate the men and prepare them for treatment.

The 2 were taken to United Regional and then to Parkland Hospital in the Metroplex. Both suffered burns and damage from the shock. Byrne was released and is recovering; Caldwell was expected to be released Wednesday. "Those two gentlemen have been making a major contribution to the Wichita Amateur Radio Society and the community for many years and their volunteer efforts are very much appreciated," wrote Morton on an Amateur Radio message board.

Hams credit the actions of McCarty with saving both men. "They were diligent, professional and knew exactly what to do in this situation," Morton told Newschannel 6. McCarty humbly ducks the praise. "I'm just doing my job. Its what I signed up for; doing my job and giving back to my community," he said.

McCarty knew he wanted to be a Firefighter from an early age. "When I was 8 years old, I got ran over by a school bus in front of my house and the first guys that showed up was our VFD," he recounted. McCarty signed up for the Department the day he turned 18.

He says the work is difficult but rewarding. Knowing that his actions may have given families back their loved ones makes him glad. "It makes you feel good. It really makes you carry your head high. Then, you just go back to doing your job again," he said.

Amateur Radio Operators are trained in electrical safety. It is usually one of the first things learned when studying for the examination required to become licensed. "This unfortunate accident can serve as a learning experience and help us all evaluate future events," wrote Morton.

Assistant Chief Payne suggested a rule of thumb while working around overhead lines. "If you're going to raise an antenna around something like that be at least 100 feet away from it," he said.

Anyone can become a Ham operator. It requires a basic knowledge of electronic and radio frequency theory, and knowledge of Federal Communications Commission rules that pertain to the hobby. To find out more information about Amateur Radio, click here.

Paul Harrop, Newschannel 6

Paul Harrop has been a FCC-licensed Amateur Radio Operator, call sign WX5USA, since 1999.