Plainville Fire Department prepares for annual Hot Air Balloon Festival

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PLAINVILLE — Members of the Plainville Fire Company recently got to try out the controls of a hot air balloon in advance of the town’s annual Hot Air Balloon Festival.

While the event has a sterling 34-year safety record, firefighters meet annually with members of the Connecticut Lighter than Air Society a few weeks before the skies above Plainville are filled with balloons. This year’s festival runs Aug. 23 to 25 at Norton Park.

Lighter than Air members showed firefighters how to activate and shutdown the burners that power balloons, taught them the basics of operating a balloon and offered some safety tips.

Fire Capt. David Massey said many of the department’s members have also attended safety training for the types of aircraft that lift off from Robertson Airport. The controls to switch off the burners in a balloon, for example, are color coded the same as the shutdown controls in the cockpit of fixed-wing aircraft.

“It gives them the sense that now if there’s an incident they know where all the safety features are of a hot air balloon,” he said.

Becoming ensnared in utility lines is one of the greatest concerns for pilots, said Garry Guertin, vice president of the Connecticut Lighter than Air Society, a club for hot air balloon enthusiasts.

Pilots will often graze the tops of trees while approaching a potential landing site to use the friction to slow down. However, wires can be hidden inside the foliage. Guertin said Eversource is noteworthy for how well-pruned they keep trees near their lines in Connecticut. Good communications with ground crews following the balloons in cars can spot hazardous cables before a basket gets too close.

Unexpected gusts of wind can also push a deflating balloon towards utility lines after a landing.

Massey said it’s a beautiful sight as the balloons lift off at the crack of dawn Saturday and Sunday and just before sunset Saturday. The event is also a major fundraiser for the company, which raises around $20,000 on average at its food booth.

“It helps the community out, along with us because we’re able to fund ourselves for equipment,” he said.
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