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The Quiet Warrior program, a collaboration between PoliceOne and 5.11 Tactical, aims to spotlight the hidden side of first responders – the humble excellence that often goes unheralded.
Avalon Fire Department Captain John Meffert was on his way home for a Fourth of July getaway when Frank and Janan Pisano’s plane hit his car and crashed onto the freeway.
By Sarah Calams / Police One
June 30, 2017 started off as a normal – or as normal as you can get – day for Avalon Fire Department Captain John Meffert. Capt. Meffert had just gotten off shift and was on his way home to meet his fiancé for a road trip to Palm Springs for an early Fourth of July celebration. However, he got stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the 55 freeway. “All of a sudden, the freeway just opened and I was the first car along with some others to the right that were able to get back to normal freeway speeds,” Capt. Meffert recalled. While back on the freeway, that’s when Capt. Meffert noticed a low-flying twin-engine Cessna 310R by the John Wayne Airport. “I’m on the phone with my dad saying, “Wow, this plane is really low,” ; he said. “That was my first glimpse. My second glimpse was, “I think this plane is going to hit me,” and then my third glimpse was that I thought he was over me and was going to make the airfield but that didn’t happen.” Capt. Meffert’s car was struck by the plane, but, miraculously, his car was only scratched. “I remember seeing the aircraft spin behind my vehicle once or twice and nosing into the right wall and the explosion of fuel,” he said. The plane, piloted by 27-year flight veteran Frank Pisano with his wife, Janan, on board, spun off the wall, came to a rest and caught fire. As the incident unfolded, Capt. Meffert, who was wearing a T-shirt, shorts and flip-flops, never skipped a beat. “I remember never having an issue handling my car after the collision and coming to a safe stop. I placed my hazard lights on and made my way back across four or five lanes. My thought was to keep my car a safe distance from the wreckage.” That’s when he stopped, jumped out of his car and started to run toward the plane.
Not always a firefighter
Capt. Meffert has not always been a firefighter. He joined the U.S. Navy right after high school in 1989 and served seven years as a hospital corpsman. He initially wanted to pursue being a corpsman for physical therapy and started working at a small facility at Naval Air Station Lemoore. Soon after, he got called up for the Persian Gulf and was assigned to the ICU with USNS Mercy. “Every day, we had doctors and nurses that would sit down and give us lectures based on what the potential events we could see for injuries and what would be coming to us if we had this war.” It was during this time that Capt. Meffert’s interests changed from physical therapy to medicine. Once he left the Persian Gulf, he was assigned to a naval base off the coast of Japan and worked at another small facility’s ICU. “On the days where we weren’t busy, we went to work in the ER and that’s where I started having more passion for emergency medicine.” He later came back to San Diego for the last part of his seven-year tour and brought back the knowledge he gained in Japan. “I got out in 1996. I spent four years, from 1992 to 1996, doing emergency medicine. When I got out of the Navy, my goal was to go to PA school.” Capt. Meffert was in the process of submitting his paperwork for PA school when he ended up moving to Catalina Island for the summer. “I ended up staying here. I pulled out of school and lived on the island.” Soon after, an opportunity presented itself with the Avalon Fire Department when the chief approached Capt. Meffert about his interest in becoming a reserve firefighter. “I said I would take a look at it, I started going to their drills and eventually I was hooked.” Capt. Meffert was brought on with the department in 2000 to serve as a full-time/part- time member to cover members who were sick or on holiday. He was later hired on full-time in 2002. And for the past 19 years, he has lived and worked on Catalina Island. However, in the last two years, he relocated and now lives in Orange County, Calif. – exactly four miles away from Frank and Janan Pisano’s house. “If I had lived on the island still, then I would never have been in the area that day.”
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