‘Planes: Fire & Rescue:' Disney Pays Tribute to Firefighters
July 17, 2014
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  • Sometimes true heroism is found in unexpected places.

    Unlikely places such as in Disney’s new film, “Planes: Fire & Rescue,” a 3-D computer-animated movie coming out Friday.

    It’s an animated film — how can the heroes be real?

    They are real, and they’re among us.

    Lake Arrowhead, Calif., resident Travis Alexander, on whom a main character is based, is one of the real-life heroes who inspired filmmakers.

    Alexander, battalion chief for CalFire Hemet-Ryan Air Attack Base in Hemet, Calif., served as a consultant for the movie, which was four years in production.

    “Planes: Fire & Rescue” is a new comedy-adventure about second chances, featuring a dynamic crew of elite firefighting aircraft devoted to protecting historic Piston Peak National Park from raging wildfire.

    Alexander’s character is a determined fire-rescue helicopter with definite leadership qualities.

    “Blade Ranger is a leader of a team of aerial firefighters committed to what they do to protect the public and natural resources,” Alexander said. “I am honored that I played a small part in helping develop this key character and his commitment to a job he loves.”

    Alexander was moved that Disney Studios chose to give Blade Ranger the number 301, the actual identification number of his fire helicopter at Hemet-Ryan Air Attack. Blade Ranger helicopter is voiced by Ed Harris, who says that Blade doesn’t need to shout — he commands the room with his vocal presence.

    The huge cast of vocal talent also includes Dane Cook, Julie Bowen, Curtis Armstrong, Teri Hatcher, Hal Holbrook, Anne Meara and Jerry Stiller. Director is Bobs Gannaway. Producer is Ferrell Barron.

    In the film, the fearless team battles a massive wildfire.

    Blade Ranger helicopter heads up the Piston Peak Air Attack team in much the same way as Alexander commands air attacks from Hemet-Ryan.

    For Alexander, it’s about tactics — strategizing where to put resources to defeat the fire — based on information and analysis.

    Research is vital to the folks at Disney.

    In 2010, they contacted the department about doing research with CalFire, and the department sent them out to Hemet-Ryan.

    It was fun, says Alexander, who helped give them tours and answered their in-depth questions.

    The Disney team even attended Air Tech School and field exercises.

    The filmmakers wanted to get it right.

    “Getting all that firefighting lingo and the look of the fire, the air attack team and their roles — getting all of that accurate was extremely important for the Disney team,” said Garth Burkhard, Disney spokesman. “It makes a believable world and really pays homage to firefighters, to whom this film is dedicated.”

    Alexander was quick to point out that Blade Ranger’s personna is very much what each and every air attack officer out there does.

    “Not only for our agency but for other agencies around the world that do this as well,” Alexander said.

    CalFire has the largest aerial firefighting fleet in the world, with 53 aircraft, that includes support aircraft, according to Alexander, who has been with CalFire since 1989.

    The goal of CalFire’s aerial bases is to have aircraft overhead, working a fire within 20 minutes of the 9-1-1 call.

    As a mountain resident, Alexander knows what the organization does to protect the mountains and says he can sleep well at night.

    It doesn’t mean he’s not concerned about fire danger, but he can sleep well.

    Nice to know heroes are on the job.

    A tagline for the film, in fact, is “When others fly out, heroes fly in.”

    Alexander, who is 6 feet 8 inches tall, jokes about choosing a career in helicopters and says he gets into them “very carefully.”

    He said that he likes to keep a low profile, but it’s hard to do at his height.

    In many ways, Alexander identifies with his animated counterpart.

    “Blade is calm under pressure and is respected by his peers,” he said. “He adheres to the rules, and his No. 1 priority is to train his firefighters and to keep his team safe.”

    As for Blade, he tells his team that “Life doesn’t always go the way you expect it. But you come here to become a firefighter. If you give up today, think of all the lives you won’t save tomorrow.”