Volunteer groups make safety a priority at speedways


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Originally Posted Online: March 19, 2013, 7:12 pm
Last Updated: March 20, 2013, 12:06 am
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By John Marx, jmarx@qconline.com

Outside the Keppy Pavilion on the grounds of the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds in Davenport, it is cold, gray and ugly.

Inside, there is a pleasant, warm, work-together hum.

At one end of the room, driver-extrication methods are being tossed about. At the other, the Speedway Fire and Rescue cadets are being briefed on life as a racetrack first responder. Things are in order, and everyone has a purpose and a place.

The following day -- when the group will move outside to practice hands-on responses to fire and driver extrications -- could be wild. The group is not. Speedway Fire and Rescue always works under control.

I learned Speedway Fire and Rescue, founded 48 years ago by Gilbert Short, is a 55-member volunteer group. Members work at seven racetracks in a two-state area every weekend from April through October.

That means local racing outlets, such as the speedways in East Moline and Davenport, are staffed with trained volunteers every night of racing.

Speedway Fire and Rescue also mans the Quad City Air Show and special productions at Cordova Raceway Park and at tracks in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

"We work at trying to have four members onsite each night we go out,'' said Capt. Karri Coyne, who doubles as Speedway Fire and Rescue's media coordinator. It seems as if every member of the team doubles up in some area to make things run smoothly.

"Everyone does their best to make sure we are staffed and handling our end of the bargain.''

I am taken with many things on this day, especially the ease with which everyone relates to one another and the attention given to training details. The talk on extrication tools and procedures will give way to hands-on extinguisher training, mass-casualty scenarios, racecar safety equipment familiarization, air-and-ground transport procedures and other duties related to motor-sports safety.

"I had a friend -- a Bettendorf racer -- who was badly burned in the 1960s,'' said Short, explaining why he began Speedway Fire and Rescue nearly 50 years ago. "At one track back then, there was a five-pound fire extinguisher on the back straightaway. That was it in some places in the 1960s. Safety motivated me. Things have come a long way.''

Coyne, part of the Speedway Fire and Rescue family for 12 years, said there is a common thread among its volunteers.

"Every community needs people who want a way to give back,'' she said, singing the praises of Short and his plan many years ago to add a first-responder unit to local racing venues. "And that's what you have with Speedway Fire and Rescue. Everyone enjoys the sport we are a part of, but realizes driver -- and fan -- safety are most important. The recent accident at Daytona shows that anything can happen.''

In February, several fans were injured when a car sailed into the fence at Daytona International Speedway, and large chunks of debris flew into the grandstands.

Short, a modest and humble man of 75, said he hopes Speedway Fire and Rescue is a part of the local racing landscape long after he is gone.

"The future's there,'' he said, pointing to a table filled with cadets. "As long as we understand our role, stay current with our training methods and equipment, things will work.''

And work smoothly, as they have for nearly 50 years.



Columnist John Marx can be reached at 309-757-8388 or jmarx@qconline.com.











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