Days of Thunder: Local first responders share Talladega experience

Kathy Harrison
The Aaron's 449 at Talladega.

First responders from Destin and across the Emerald Coast take part in an annual trip to Talladega, where they serve on the front lines during the weekend's race festivities. After returning from the Aaron's 499 at Talladega, the responders shared their experiences with The Log.

Phil Metz, Medical Division Chief for the Destin Fire Control District, has worked at Talladega for about 8 years. He currently works as a jump medic on the turn 2A rescue truck.

He is responsible for the medical evaluation and treatment of the drivers after a crash. He also is a NASCAR training officer were he works closely with the track medical director to train all the track emergency medical personnel.

Q: What motivates you to keep coming back?

A: The excitement of the races and the people I work with.

Q: Has there been one special call during those years that stands out from the rest, and why?

A: Carl Edward’s accident back in 2009 when his car went airborne and hit catch fence in the oval. I was in turn 4A at the time when it happened. That has been the worst accident so far while in Talladega.

T. J. Buchanan, Fire Fighter /Engineer for the Destin Fire Control District, is the newest member from Destin to join the Talladega crew. He worked on a fire truck in turn three.

Q: Why are you volunteering at Talladega?

A: I always had an interest in NASCAR and I’m a motor sport fan. After my first NASCAR experience I came back and told Tony Carol, the Battalion chief at the time who worked for many years at Talladega, I have to be part of it! An opportunity came up for this race and I jumped to it. It was my second experience with NASCAR and now I’m part of it, How cool is that! I will definitely be back for as long as they’ll have me. I had a fantastic time.

Brian Weiland, Fire Fighter/Engineer for the Destin Fire Control District, has worked at Talladega for 13 years, holding the current position as Crew Chief on the 4A Tool Truck.

The crew is in charge of all the extractions and track fires.

Q: What motivates you to keep coming back?

A: The people I work with are amazing. It is awesome to be part of the biggest and fastest track NASCAR has.

Q: Has there been one call during those years that stands out from the rest?

A: Yes, I remember back in April 2009 when Ryan Newman crashed. His car rolled over about eight times and we had to cut the top of the car to get him out. He was not injured but he was trapped inside. It was a big crash!

Joseph E. (Butch) Parker is the training and EMS division chief at North Bay Fire District. He is a med card supervisor in charge of all the medical help at Talladega. He has been working at Talladega for about 6 years.

Q: What motivates you to keep coming back?

A: “It is the best medicine” - he jokes. It is quite different from my normal job. It is more gear to load them up and gear them to the care center witch it is located 200 yards from my station at Talladega. I also enjoy the camaraderie.

Q: Do you recommend this experience to others?

A: Yes I do, there is a lot of behind the scene that it’s not seen on TV and great opportunities while here.

Q: How much longer do you plan on being in Talladega?

A: For as long as I can!

Two Eglin Fire Fighters from the Eglin Fire Department, (left) Battalion Chief, Jimmy Reed and Assistant Chief, Joseph Suddarth, were pit fire supervisors at Talladega. They are in charge of the Pit crew that makes sure the drivers and race teams are safe. There is a lot of intensity at pit stops, as cars come in about 55 MPH and with everything happening in about 13-second or so, anything can happen. Covering each stall, a fire and rescue team member standing with a fire extinguisher in hand, watches the action at the pit stop closely and they are ready for any action.