The Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department dispatched one of its newest engines to National Harbor on Saturday, but this model wasn’t built to fight fires — it was made to fly.
County firefighter George Raburn of Denton and four other firefighters competed in the National Red Bull Flugtag on Saturday at National Harbor. The group drove their team-made flying machine into the Potomac River to raise money for the Local 1619 Washington Hospital Center Burn Fund, which is used to help injured Prince George’s County firefighters and their families.
The Flugtag is a national event sponsored by Red Bull, an energy drink company, in which people build gliders and fly them as far as they can after pushing the craft off a 24-foot-tall deck. The event took place in five different cities simultaneously, a first for Red Bull’s Flugtag. Flugtag means “flying day” or “air show” in German.
Raburn’s craft was a replica of Engine 842, the first truck to respond to National Harbor. The team wrapped a large photograph of the engine around a PVC pipe base and placed a glider with large, black wings on top that would detach once pushed off the platform. After the team did their required dance number, Raburn climbed atop the craft’s wings, piloting the craft about 6 feet after his team pushed him off the platform.
While receiving big cheers from the crowd of more than 10,000 people, the county group failed to place. The winner of the event, team Harvest Bureau of Pennsylvania, took home first place after its tractor-shaped glider flew 54 feet.
While Raburn said the event was entertaining, he said the focus was more on raising the money to help firefighters.
“If we are going to have the public’s attention, why not raise some money?” Raburn said. “It’s been a very long three months putting this together.”
Raburn said the team raised about $6,000 before the Flugtag event, with the final count still being tallied as of Monday afternoon. Money was raised by selling T-shirts and gathering sponsorships, Raburn said.
The burn fund is managed by the Prince George’s County Professional Fire Fighters and Paramedics Association, which typically donates about $10,000 per year to the Washington Hospital Center’ Burn Unit, union president Andrew Pantelis said. The fund also keeps $10,000 in its coffers to help firefighters and their families, he said. The firefighters participating in the Flugtag have raised about as much money as one of the union’s large-scale events, he said.
“It is one of the most unique fund-raising opportunities,” Pantelis said.
Flugtag participation was initiated by Raburn and his crew, who submitted their application among thousands of others who wanted to pilot crafts into the Potomac River. This was the first time Prince George’s County participated in the event and the first time the event was at National Harbor.
Prince George’s County Fire Department Chief Marc Bashoor said he applauded the efforts of the firefighters who built the craft while still maintaining their duties.
“It’s a personal endeavor for them,” Bashoor said. “They have the potential to make a fool of themselves and they love it. They have our support.”