East Peoria firefighters going on Honor Flight

Jeanette Brickner
Pictured are the East Peoria Firefighters/paramedics who have been or will be going on the Greater Peoria Honor Flight. They are from left, Neil Schopp, Andy Ogburn, Troy Dobbelaire, Justin Hale, Tony Piraino and Bill Akers.

Members of the East Peoria Fire Department are no strangers to the Greater Peoria Honor Flight.

Since the flights began last year, East Peoria firefighters and paramedics have donated their time to assist on a medical team during the day-long trip to Washington, D.C., for the area’s veterans.

The Greater Peoria Honor Flight will leave from the Gen. Wayne A. Downing Peoria International Airport Sept. 23 with 36 World War II veterans, 34 Korean veterans and two Vietnam veterans from the Peoria area. Veterans fly free and visit various war memorials during the trip.

Tony Piraino, an East Peoria firefighter and paramedic, said he has been on three flights so far and is going on the upcoming flight Sept. 23.

Piraino’s wife, Phyllis Piraino, and other family members and friends started the flight last year.

“We had three flights last year and this will be our second flight this year,” Tony Piraino said.

Tony said there are about 120 hubs throughout the country for the Honor Flights. Closer to home, they are in Springfield and Galesburg, and now Peoria.

“The Peoria area one is nice for the guys around this area, they don’t have to go to Springfield,” Tony Piraino said.

Accompanying Piraino this year will be Bill Akers and Andy Ogburn from the East Peoria Fire Department.

Other members of the fire department who have gone in the past were Neil Schopp, Justin Hale and Troy Dobbelaire.

“We basically provide our medical assistance. We’re part of the medical team,” Piraino said. “You help with the wheelchairs, loading and off loading them. If there’s any medical emergencies that arise, one of our goals here is to keep them as safe as possible.”

About 160 people normally go on the flight that leaves at 5 a.m. and returns about 9:30 p.m. that evening.

“It’s a long day for these guys,” Piraino said, adding that the only thing he has had to deal with medically was some problems with vertigo and some diabetic issues.

“You check their blood pressure if need be,” he added. “We are there if need be for anything. Thank goodness we haven’t had any problems.”

Each veteran who flies for free is accompanied by a guardian who has to pay $500 for their ticket. The medical staff from East Peoria will also fly for free.

“They want everybody to be a guardian first even on the medical team just so you can get that total experience of taking care and being with somebody,” Piraino said.

Now on his fourth flight, Piraino said he has learned a lot from the veterans.

“We try to get all the World War II people and some of the more critically ill first,” he said. “Then we move it down to Korea, Vietnam and other conflicts. You get to see many different branches of the services. You hear a lot of nice stories. A lot of these guys tell you things they haven’t told their family. They open up a lot. It’s just an all around cool thing.”

Dr. Tim Vega from OSF is in charge of the medical team.

For more information, visit the website at www.greaterpeoriahonorflight.org or call 397-6975. Tax-deductible contributions may be made through the website or by mail to: Greater Peoria Honor Flight, P.O. box 5072, Peoria, IL 61601-5072.