FireFlight Pilot Todd Whaley has twice in as many months visited schools with the county’s helicopter to make a twofold impression: the nimble aircraft can do a number of things, including dousing brushfires before they become newsworthy wildfires, and that being a helicopter pilot and mechanic is an awesome job.
His latest student outreach venture was to a private K-12 in Ormond Beach called Riverbend Academy.
“There is a shortage of helicopter pilots and mechanics. I think it’s because young people aren’t exposed to what they can do,” Whaley said. “This is the time to make an impression on them – plant that seed. I still remember my first plane ride when I was 5 years old like it was yesterday. I wasn’t on my first helicopter until my 20s when I was in the military (Navy), and the experience changed my whole career outlook.”
Flight Operations Chief Dana Morris – who only missed out on this opportunity and the presentation in February at University High School in Orange City because of the way he and Whaley’s shifts rotate – concurs that engaging the public is a highlight.
“I love doing outreach – especially with children and students,” Morris said. “We are proud of Flagler County’s fire protection program with FireFlight, and we love to share what we do. (Before COVID), at the airshows at Flagler Executive Airport, I must lift 200 kids in and out of the helicopter. It’s a thrill for them.”
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