SrA Matthew Kunko saved lives, resources

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Jeremy Roman
  • 301st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

After performing a standard monthly checkpoint on their fuel trucks, Senior Airman Matthew Kunko, 301 FW Logistics Readiness Squadron fuels operations specialist, was not able to get Refueler 45 to start on the morning of Oct.17, 2021. He went to fill up another fueling truck with JET A fuel and returned an hour later to try to restart Refueler 45. Again, it would not start but this time he detected the smell of something burning after trying the ignition. Kunko heard crackling sounds by the vehicle's battery compartment and discovered a small fire on the wires behind the battery housing.

"This is a worst case scenario kind of situation. It’s obviously an electrical fire with a continuous heat source which could potentially spread very quickly," said Kunko. “Technically speaking, JET A is combustible fuel and it’s very similar to diesel fuel. You could throw a match into jet fuel and it most likely won’t burn. It needs to be at a very high temperature before it reaches flashpoint. An arching electrical fire can definitely get it to reach those temperatures.”  

Kunko sprang into action.

“Instantly, my training kicked in and it’s kind of crazy to explain. With my knowledge of what was happening, I knew there wasn’t any time to panic,” he explained. “It was a split second where my brain shut down anything that wasn’t immediate action. It was extremely clear what I needed to do. I can thank the [Air Force Reserve] training I’ve received over the years and the confidence my leadership instills in me to be able to take action like that.”

At that point, Kunko took one of the two fire extinguishers attached to the truck, pulled the pin and sprayed down the fire as best he could. The fire continued to burn still which is when he called his shop to have them call the base fire department and detail the situation.

“There were two trucks in close proximity of Refueler 45 in the yard,” he said. “We moved the trucks and cleared the way for the fire department to take over.”

His actions saved that truck and potentially two others.

“After everything was totally extinguished and the batteries where removed, I was told that my quick action probably prevented the fire from spreading,” he explained.

SrA Kunko is an example of the amazing warriors who serve in the Air Force Reserve. This Reserve Citizen Airman was also featured as an outstanding 301 FW Airman last January so it should come as no surprise how he went above and beyond to protect his fellow Airmen and his mission.

“[It was discovered] the fire started from two exposed wires in an area we don’t normally inspect. So this whole incident wasn’t anyone’s fault, it was just a freak accident. This is a perfect example of the dangers [which can come along with] complacency,” said Kunko. “I think sometimes we [can] go through our day to day and think, ‘eh, that won’t happen to me’ but it absolutely can. In those moments, you need to be ready. I’m incredibly thankful no one was hurt, no more equipment was damaged and we can continue doing our mission!”

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