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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Kasey Kahne walks in firefighter’s boots for a day

By GEORGE SCIONE

Kasey Kahne is a race car driver. It’s all he ever wanted to be growing up.

Running into burning buildings, taking his place in the line on the fire hose and rescuing people trapped in a crushed car were never things he fantasized about. Those were
action-packed moments he saw on the TV or movie screen – well, that is, until Wednesday. ...

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Kasey Kahne is a race car driver. It’s all he ever wanted to be growing up.

Running into burning buildings, taking his place in the line on the fire hose and rescuing people trapped in a crushed car were never things he fantasized about. Those were
action-packed moments he saw on the TV or movie screen – well, that is, until Wednesday.

Kahne, a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver, made the first of two Granite State visits within one week when he stopped by the New Hampshire Fire and EMS Training Academy in Concord on Wednesday.

He’ll be back in the area on Tuesday for a test session at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, the site of July 13’s Camping World RV Sales 301.

Wednesday at the Fire Academy, Kahne was on hand to help NHMS Executive Vice President and General Manager Jerry Gappens dedicate that race to New Hampshire’s first responders, while also having the opportunity to jump out of his racing fire suit and into full firefighter gear for some training drills.

He took part in a canine demonstration – during which Molly, a yellow lab, smelled Kahne’s foot then sat down, signaling that she detected an ignitable fluid in the form of a droplet of gasoline that was placed on his shoe – operated the Amakus
rescue tool on a car, participated in a water hose competition with trainees and capped off his day at the academy by joining a team on a mission in a two-story mercantile Class “B” burn building.

Wearing a self-contained breathing apparatus, Kahne and his team maneuvered through the smoke-filled structure before putting out a controlled fire on the second floor.

“To put on that suit and walk in their shoes a little bit,” said the 11-year Sprint Cup veteran, “I have a ton of respect for what they do on a regular basis.’’

All the things that 22-year-old Nashua recruit Andrew Morrissey has dreamed of doing since he was a child. After all, it’s a Morissey family tradition.

“It just came natural to me,” said Morrissey, whose father Brian Morrissey is fire chief in Nashua. “It’s a big family thing to me. My dad, my brother, my grandfather and all my uncles. I knew I wanted to do it when I was a little kid.

“I watch NASCAR from time to time. I’ve never been a huge fan, but it was definitely cool to meet Kasey today and see him do some work with us. For him to come here and see what we do and take part in some drills means a lot, especially since they are dedicating that race. That’s a big deal.”

Down the road these recruits could be part of the 600 first responders on scene during race weekends. For Gappens, there is a connection between NASCAR and this group of people.

For the second straight season, Gappens has reached out to corporate sponsors to buy tickets to allow first responders and their families to come to the race. Last year, over $10,000 in first responder tickets were donated from corporate sponsors.

“We are using the platform of the largest sporting event in New England to increase the awareness of the survivors and of those who protect and serve all of our communities,” Gappens said. “It is our honor to be a part of this.”

It was even more of an honor for Kahne, especially after his burn house experience.

“I wasn’t too nervous because they were in control, but if they weren’t, I’d be really nervous because you can’t see anything in there,” the Enumclaw, Wash., native said. “You have to trust your teammates in there. I have a lot of respect for these guys.”

Kahne and his Hendrick Motorsports teammates will be back for a two-day test session on June 3 and 4 at the Magic Mile – a little more than one month before July’s Sprint Cup race. It’s a race Kahne is looking forward to, considering his success in the past. He won the July 2012 race at NHMS and went on to finish a career-best fourth in the Sprint Cup standings that season.

Currently in 17th and 108 points behind teammate Jeff Gordon, Kahne’s hoping for another big finish in Loudon.